They have successfully printed a 1.5m-wide UAV as part of a research project looking at 3D printing of complex designs.
Low production costs might lead to the printing of 3D unmanned aircraft that could be disposable and sent on one-way flights for delivery, search or reconnaissance purposes, says the University.
A test flight has been completed as a glider, and researchers are now developing an electric ducted fan propulsion system to fit into the airframe's central spine. They plan to develop the craft for guidance by GPS or camera technology, controlled by an operator wearing first person-view goggles.
"Following successful flight testing, we are working to incorporate blended winglets and twin ducted fan propulsion," said Dr Garth Nicholson who led the project.
"We are also investigating full on-board data logging of flight parameters, autonomous operation by GPS, and control by surface morphing technology. Concepts for novel ducted fan designs are also being investigated".
Weighing 2kg and made from thermoplastic, the Sheffield UAV is made of nine parts that snap together.
The engineers are currently evaluating nylon as a printing material. This would make the UAV 60 per cent stronger with no increase in weight, says the University.
The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing is a centre for advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors.