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Immortalizing the Tuskegee Airmen with 3D Scanning and 3D Printing

By <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/sarah-case/" target="_self">Sarah Smith</a>

By Sarah Smith

Posted on April 12, 2024

3D-printed busts of The Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African American World War II fighter pilots, is now part of the New England Air Museum’s exhibit honoring their story and legacy.

Created and donated by TriMech, these lifelike pieces highlight the capabilities of 3D scanning, printing, and finishing, as well as the talented people behind the technology. A referral from a long-time client, The Connecticut Center of Advanced Technologies led to us to proudly supporting a new exhibit at New England Air Museum (NEAM) honoring the tremendous accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Tuskegee Airmen at NEAM

The Tuskegee Airmen were a group of African American military fighter and bomber pilots that fought in World War II. At that time, Jim Crow laws were active, and the military was segregated. These dedicated soldiers were subject to discrimination and went without the acclaim they deserved for their many successful missions.

Over the course of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen flew 1,578 missions and 15,533 sorties, destroyed 261 enemy aircraft, and won more than 850 medals.

Tuskegee Airmen 3D printed busts

Tuskegee Airmen 3D printed busts

The New England Air Museum exhibit acknowledges and celebrates the sacrifices and dedication of these men.  NEAM has been open for over 60 years and commemorates and chronicles many important pieces of aviation history. They have a range of exhibits such as an Igor Sikorsky memorial, Women in Aviation, and the Tuskegee Airmen.

Preserving history with 3D scanning

In order to make the 3D printed busts a reality, we first needed CAD files. TriMech is well positioned to take on scanning projects. We sell and support 3D scanning equipment, software, and accessories and offer comprehensive scanning services through the experts on our team.

We sent one of our technicians, Andrew Miller, to the museum to 3D scan the Tuskegee Airmen. Since we only had one shot to capture the scan data, we took multiple scans for each man. Each scan took approximately one minute to capture.

Tuskegee Airmen 3D scanning with the Artec Leo

3D scanning Tuskegee Airmen with the Artec Leo

We chose the Artec Leo for this project because of its convenience and detailed resolution. The Leo does not need registration dots, which is ideal for a face. It is also a portable battery-operated option, so we were not tied to a computer. This gave us the freedom to move around without wires. The Leo captures objects from the size of a basketball to the size of an SUV with a resolution of about four thousandths of an inch.

Tuskegee Airmen 3D scan review

Bringing the 3D scans to life using 3D printing technology

We evaluated many 3D printing technologies when we set out to print the busts. The first technology we evaluated was FDM. This process is great for large parts and there are many durable materials available. It does however have slight layer lines that would need to be filled and sanded to emulate our target of bronze busts.

Since the Leo captured full color data, we considered printing the busts on our PolyJet printers which print in full color, but the size and durability were of concern.

Tuskegee Airmen Watershed Black

3D Printed Bust using Watershed Black Resin

We chose to print the busts using Stereolithography (SLA) because it has a great resolution and surface finish. The four busts were printed, one at a time on the Stratasys Neo 450 in Watershed Black. While the Neo prints exceptionally quick in this material, each bust took 64 hours to print.

3D printing services and custom finishing painting

Our Advanced Manufacturing Services team dedicated over 100 hours to print, hand sand, prime, paint and patina these busts. Our team specializes in demanding projects and appearance prototypes. We offer a full array of production and finishing options to our clients.

Tuskegee Airmen 3D printed busts with model shop team

Tuskegee Airmen 3D printed busts with model shop team

About CCAT

TriMech and The Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology (CCAT) have partnered on many opportunities and events.

CCAT is a 501 c(3) non-profit organization founded in 2004. Their facility offers a training center and demonstrations of cutting-edge manufacturing technologies, assisting companies to adopt and implement new equipment to promote efficiency and growth.

TriMech and CCAT team at NEAM

CCAT & TriMech at NEAM

Conclusion

TriMech is proud to have put so much effort across many of our teams to support this exhibit at NEAM.

If you’re interested in visiting the exhibit – visit the Tuskegee Airmen Exhibit at New England Air Museum (neam.org)

Article by <a href="https://mfg.trimech.com/author/sarah-case/" target="_self">Sarah Smith</a>

Article by Sarah Smith

Sarah Smith is a Hardware Products Marketing Specialist for the TriMech Advanced Manufacturing business