For as long as he can remember, Ralf Paehl of Germany has been fascinated by airplanes. As early as the age of 12, he even hand-built his own model airplane design and continued to build them over the years. Perhaps it comes with little surprise that Paehl chose to go to school for aeronautical engineering where he later obtained a pilot’s license and continues to both fly and build RC model airplanes in his spare time.
Thanks to various digital fabrication tools, Paehl has expanded his RC model airplane building skill set and among other parts that he has began creating using the tools are custom RC model airplane pilots - under the brand TwinPilots - that can be designed after the plane owners that are controlling them from the ground.
“Knowing that even the cockpits are made to scale, it becomes clear, that they cannot be left empty, but need a pilot,” said Paehl in an interview with 3Ders.
Paehl is quick to note that considering the amount of work that many of these hobbyists put into their model airplanes, they are proud to have a customized pilot built by TwinPilot for their aircrafts - which can be matched to look exactly like them and be custom-weighted for different types of airplanes.
To create the digitally-sculpted pilots, Paehl uses the freeware Sculptris for sculpting the 3D models. To ensure that the models look like their respective human owners, reference photographs are used that received from the customers via email. In order to ensure that the photographs are able to be used, a set of instructions are available on the TwinPilots website.
Although it is a time-consuming process, Paehl notes that by doing the process in this way, a worldwide market of customers are able to have their products made without the need for an on-site scan session.
To create a 3D print of the finished sculpted 3D model, TwinPilot uses a Creatr 3D printer from Leapfrog - however the company will soon be switching over to use a Zortrax M200 3D printer within the next few weeks. The company only prints using ABS plastic and then finishes them through a sanding and painting process.
Because the weight of each of the pilot models is critical, the majority of the final bodies are made from a soft molded foam based off of the 3D model, however the head, hands, shoes and other accessories are 3D printed. Additionally, some parts are created using a laser cutter or a CNC machine if applicable (such as sunglasses) and the clothes are actual fabric that has been sewn.
As for what’s next for Paehl and TwinPilots, the company is currently working on sculpting and manufacturing a famous and popular female pilot - although not names have been mentioned (could it be Amelia Earhart)? They will also be widening their portfolio to include non-custom pilots that, while they are made using similar manufacturing methods, are not customizing and thus, cheaper for customers who don’t necessarily desire a custom-made replica of themselves.