NATICK, Mass. (April 1, 2015) - Pizzas made to order on 3D printers soon could be delivered by drones to hungry Soldiers at outposts across the globe.

According to researchers at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center, the pizzas would be produced on specially designed 3D printers and flown to outposts while still hot. Natick researchers called it "an unexpected breakthrough" beyond the recently announced development of a Meal, Ready-to-Eat, also known as MRE, pizza, which has a shelf life of three years.

"It's great to be able to offer the warfighter a little slice of home with the MRE pizza," said John Harlow, supervisory culinary transfer engineer at Natick, "but we never lost sight of our true goal -- delivering piping hot, complete, custom pizzas to our men and women in the field. Who deserves them more?"

Recent, revolutionary strides in 3D printing made it all possible.

"The technology is taking quantum leaps," said Steve Smith, team leader of Natick's 3D Food Printing Directorate. "NASA has really led the way with its research into using 3D printing to provide food for astronauts on interplanetary missions."

Harlow said that through a cooperative agreement with NASA, Natick has adapted the technology with an eye on the pie, not the sky.

"We were already halfway there with the MRE pizza," Harlow said. "Our food scientists just took it the rest of the way home."

The 3D pizza breakthrough had come through the countless hours put in by Harlow and his culinary team members, who have yet to clear all the roadblocks.

"Pepperoni was one thing, but anchovies are another," said Max Maxfield, a culinary team scientist. "We still haven't cracked the code on that ingredient, but we'll never give up until we can offer Soldiers a full pizza menu."

As Natick scientists envision it, Soldiers would call in to the 3D pizza printing centers and place their orders. Technicians would enter ingredient information into computers, and 30 minutes later, pizzas would be ready to go in insulated bags, which were also developed at Natick.

"That's where we come in," said Taz Mouton, an Army drone pilot. "And if I can't get it there in a half an hour or less, it's free."

Because they are operating outside of the U.S., where Federal Aviation Administration restrictions don't apply, Army drone pilots can take certain liberties to ensure that pizzas are delivered to Soldiers as efficiently as possible.

"We control the airspace," Mouton said. "We can fly nap-of-the-earth missions and really push the envelope. We just have to stay under a certain altitude to avoid interfering with helicopter missions."

On the receiving end would be hungry U.S. Soldiers such as Pfc. Tommy Kean, who salivated at the thought of pizza deliveries.

"I can't wait to see that first drone coming in for a landing carrying that box," Kean said. "Last night, I dreamt about a hamburger-mushroom pizza."

Natick researchers expect the first drone pizza deliveries to be made by April Fool's Day 2016.