Drones

3D-printed UAV now sports ducted fan motors

3D-printed UAV now sports duct...
It may look like a flying manta ray, but this is actually the University of Sheffield's latest UAV
It may look like a flying manta ray, but this is actually the University of Sheffield's latest UAV
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It may look like a flying manta ray, but this is actually the University of Sheffield's latest UAV
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It may look like a flying manta ray, but this is actually the University of Sheffield's latest UAV
Members of the AMRC Design and Prototyping GroupUAV team, left to right: Sam Bull, Mark Cocking, Keith Colton, Daniel Tomlinson, John Mann and Garth Nicholson
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Members of the AMRC Design and Prototyping GroupUAV team, left to right: Sam Bull, Mark Cocking, Keith Colton, Daniel Tomlinson, John Mann and Garth Nicholson

Back in April, we first heard about a 3D-printed UAV airframe that could be fabricated within 24 hours. Created by a Boeing-assisted team at the University of Sheffield's Advanced Manufacturing Research Center, it was a gliding prototype that would require the addition of a motor and an external propeller for powered flight. Its recently-announced successor, however, features integrated electric ducted fan motors.

As with its predecessor, the modular components of the new blended-wing UAV were made largely via Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM). This is the type of 3D printing in which successive layers of molten plastic are extruded one on top of another, to build up complete objects.

Although the aircraft consists of separate modules that are bolted together, the central body – which houses the fan motors and incorporates "complex internal features" – was printed as a single ABS plastic part. The motors and electronics themselves were added afterwards.

Members of the AMRC Design and Prototyping GroupUAV team, left to right: Sam Bull, Mark Cocking, Keith Colton, Daniel Tomlinson, John Mann and Garth Nicholson
Members of the AMRC Design and Prototyping GroupUAV team, left to right: Sam Bull, Mark Cocking, Keith Colton, Daniel Tomlinson, John Mann and Garth Nicholson

While some other components were made from carbon fiber this time around (it presumably now takes a little longer than 24 hours to build), those parts were still made using 3D-printed molds. As an added economical bonus, those molds were double-sided, allowing one piece of plastic to be used to create two parts. One of those carbon parts is a moveable "duck tail," which facilitates improved pitch control by channeling the air as it comes out of the ducts.

The finished UAV weighs 3.5 kg (7.7 lb), puts out 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) of combined thrust, cruises via remote control at nearly 72 km/h (45 mph), and is launched using a custom-made catapult. It can be seen in flight in the video below.

Plans call for the next version to have a twice-as-wide 3-meter (9.8-ft) wingspan and miniature gas turbine engines. It may also incorporate unique flight control surfaces, and carbon composite batteries that are part of its structure.

Sources: University of Sheffield, AMRC paper

3 comments
lwesson
Shades of the WW2 German Luftwaffe, Horten 229, first flown on March 1, 1944! The first fully jet powered flying wing. 607 mph. I wonder if the irony is lost on the Brit. players here, or if there was any study done from the 229? Someday, soon I hope, I will be able to buy such a model and fly it about. The future is so bright that I have to wear shades!
Stephen N Russell
Upscale for Manned Use or larger Recon use. Love the flying wing shape.
Richard Ike
This design is based on the Nazi German Horten Ho-229. However, it's beautiful. I love to see UAV's with personality.