Say you're on deployment and you're planning tomorrow's patrol. Wouldn't it be neat to have a customized drone to fly overhead to take video or survey the area around you?

A team at the Army Research Laboratory is working to make that happen, with the 3-D printed On-Demand Small Unmanned Aircraft System, which can fly up to 55 mph and takes just a day to whip up downrange.

"Drones or quadcopters are really getting big right now," said Jim Gerdes, a project engineer, in a Dec. 30 Army release. "I mean, in particular just the commercial and hobby markets have shown what can be done with a small amount of money."

3-D printing has also exploded in recent years, and the military is looking at ways to leverage lower costs and streamlined printing machines.

The team went to Fort Benning, Georgia, in early December to show off the ODSUAS at the Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiments for Training and Doctrine Command, according to the release.

"The timeline of 24 hours to receive a mission-custom UAS fits right in line with the way they plan and execute their missions," project manager Eric Spero said.

In an operational setting, a patrol would request unmanned aerial support for a mission, input requirements into mission planning software and 24 hours later receive a UAV built to those specifications.

The motors and propellers are not printed, however, so those need to be stocked and then added post-production.

Spero said leaders asked for UAVs with low noise, long standoff distance, heavier payload capacity and more agility.

"I'm very optimistic that most of those are achievable," he said. "I think the hardest one that's going to be achievable is the heavy payload."

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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