Featuring twin engine ducts and complex internal features made as a single 3D printed part, a team of engineers from the University of Sheffield are pushing the envelope of design and rapid manufacturing technology with their novel UAV.

The group from the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre Design and Prototyping Group unveiled their flying marvel at Salt Lake City, Utah during a presentation to the prestigious assembly at the aerospace manufacturing conference organized by SAE, the global association for aerospace, automotive and commercial vehicle industry engineers.

The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle built upon their original glider now incorporates electric-powered, ducted fan engines which drive their four-pound device at nearly 45 miles an hour.

And they don't plan to stop the development any time soon as they already have plans on the drawing board to replace the electric ducted fans with gas turbine engines and a doubling of the craft's wingspan to just over six feet.

To accomplish the UAV project, the team developed fresh manufacturing methodologies to create weight-shaving carbon fiber components, jigs, fixtures and molds, and the machine's airframe.

The UAV also includes a Duck Tail which collects the air leaving the engines to provide aerodynamic control.

"The project was a success on all levels, from team building, experience gained in structural and systems design and design for manufacture through to testing and validation of Computational Fluid Dynamics," says Dr Garth Nicholson, a senior design engineer on the project. "The aircraft was developed using both an incremental design philosophy, as well as trialing experimental manufacturing techniques in carbon fiber production."

The drone was made of ABS-M30 thermoplastic. It was first tested as a non-powered glider, and the engineering team says they'll move on to building a system to allow pilots to fly the craft via GPS.

John Mann, a Development Engineer on the Sheffield project, says it's the relatively inexpensive nature of the FDM process which led to the end product. Mann was responsible for detail design and CAD modeling of the aircraft.

"The whole airframe was designed specifically for additive manufacture," Mann said. "This type of design has a number of advantages. It lends itself to FDM technology due to the smooth leading and trailing edges over each half-span."