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UAV Carbon Fibre Composite Aircraft Structures

Project Insight

The inventor of the aircraft John Coakley contacted us to help him reduce the weight of this small electric UAV by incorporating advanced composite carbon fibre structures.

We were not only able to assist John with the design and development of advanced composite components we were also able to source grant funding on his behalf to cover the cost of our fees.

The Hoverwing is a unique remote-controlled camera platform which can hover and swoop in and out of the action to help films like the Bourne Identity, James Bond and Mission Impossible franchises become more real and less reliant on special effects.

The configuration of the aircraft is unique because unlike a normal aircraft, the slower it flies it actually become more stable. Even when it can’t keep in level flight any longer, it doesn’t stall or lose control, at this point the Hoverwing plays its trump card and switches to hover and that trick is still top secret.

We carried out the following studies and project work on John's behalf.

  • Outlined the benefits advanced composite materials/technology would provide for candidate components on the aircraft

  • Identified appropriate manufacturing technologies and provided a detailed insight

  • Provided estimated costs for a main wing component

  • Provided estimated costs for associated patterns and tooling

The components we studied included:

  • Main wing

  • Tail wing

  • Tail vertical stabiliser

  • Propeller duct

  • Fuselage

Manufacturing technologies discussed in the report included:

  • Autoclave cured carbon/epoxy prepregs

  • Resin transfer moulded carbon/epoxy

  • Heated press moulding

In conclusion the report illustrated that the most appropriate materials technology for the majority of components would be autoclave cured carbon/epoxy prepregs, manufactured in female composite moulds.

The report also concluded that the inherent levels of dimensional accuracy achievable part to part would offer substantial performance and manufacturing benefits.

Feasibility Study

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The scope of this study was devoted to investigating relatively low cost advanced composite manufacturing technologies for the main wing and a propeller duct that would provide:

  • Components dimensionally faithful to 3D CAD designs – having identical shape and aerodynamic profile

  • Light weight components produced from advanced composite materials – having high levels of strength and stiffness

  • Relatively low cost CNC machined moulds and tooling

To enable quotations to be sought from potential subcontractors components produced from prepreg carbon fibre composite materials were developed.

Additionally a relatively low cost mould/tooling system was developed, 3D CAD models of moulds and associated tooling were developed, together with 2D CAD detailed engineering drawings. Potential subcontractors were identified, relevant CAD data supplied and budget quotations were received from them.


The study illustrated that it is technically feasible to produce advanced composite components of high quality, faithfully representing 3D CAD data - close dimensional tolerances from relatively low cost moulds.

Additionally the report concluded that it would be possible to produce main wing and duct components from carbon fibre composite, a much more expensive material than currently employed, at a similar cost to the existing foam/balsa components. This would prove to be possible owing to the far more efficient manufacturing process we had developed.

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