Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton
EngineeringPostgraduate study

MSc Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design (1 year)

The unmanned systems industry is currently undergoing explosive growth; as a result there is an increased demand for unmanned vehicle systems designers. Our MSc Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design course has been created to provide graduate engineers with the necessary skills and knowledge to design unmanned airvehicle systems.

Introducing your degree

The future of exploration, transportation and conflict is in unmanned aircraft. Be the future and start a fascinating career on the precipice of national intelligence and technological advancements with a masters in Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design. Sometimes referred to as drones, UAVs, UAS or RPAS, unmanned aircraft are revolutionising our ability to monitor and understand our environment.
This industry-led course focuses on the cutting-edge design of these sophisticated vehicles and is ideally suited to engineers looking to specialise or to enter into this fast-paced industry.

MSc Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design

Due to the explosive growth of the industry, unmanned aircraft systems designers are in high demand. This course has been created to provide graduate engineers with the skills and knowledge needed to design unmanned aircraft systems.

You will be taught by leaders in the field. The University has a strong reputation in autonomous systems with many world firsts including: SULSA, the first 3D printed plane and the first low-cost maritime surveillance UAV, 2SEAS.

Practical learning is a fundamental part of this one-year course. You will design, build and fly your own unmanned vehicle as part of a group design project. Visit the Design Show website to see examples of students' projects. We provide you with access to world-class facilities to put your design through mission validation including: a UAV test pilot base and dedicated flying site, state-of-the-art wind tunnels and rapid prototyping labs. You will also have the opportunity to study for a pilot’s licence.

Your core modules will give you a solid foundation of aerospace control systems and avionics. You will master design methodologies and put these into practice. Each semester, you can select specialist modules that are aligned to your interests.

The emphasis of the course is on the design of the vehicle, rather than the wider systems such as ground station and software associated with navigation and communications. The course will explore civil and commercial applications of unmanned systems. Although some of the teaching material may reference military technology, the course will not cover military, defence or weapon-specific systems.

In addition to group work, you will undertake an individual research project. Previous examples include the development of a hybrid vehicle and a multi-rotor automated Li-Po battery changer. Our students also benefit from our many industry partnerships and external contributors, including QinetiQ and Rolls-Royce.

View the programme specification for this course for 2019/20 entrants

View the programme specification for this course for 2020/21 entrants

To Apply

You can apply through the University of Southampton's online postgraduate application system. For more background and detailed information, see how to apply.

The deadline for new applications to this course is the 31st July each year.


This masters programme is accredited by the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS) and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) as meeting the academic requirement for Further Learning for Chartered Engineer registration.

Candidates must hold a BEng/BSc undergraduate first degree that is accredited for Chartered Engineer (CEng) registration to comply with full CEng registration requirements.

Programme Structure

Full-time study

The full-time MSc course lasts for 12 months. The first 8 months are normally spent mainly on the taught component, with lectures divided into two 12-week periods (semesters 1 and 2), and with exams at the end of each semester. The final 4 months are spent full-time on a research project, for which some preparation is done in semester 2.

The taught component comprises a number of modules totalling 120 credit points. Among these, 90 credit points are compulsory, with 30 credits being selected from the optional list in the Modules section. Suitable alternative modules, perhaps from other courses, may be substituted in exceptional circumstances at the discretion of the Course Organiser.

Part time study is not available for this courses.

Exit Points

The taught component of the MSc course is assessed independently of the research project component. Progression to the research project depends on successful completion of the taught component. The MSc award depends on passing the examinations and on successful completion of a dissertation on the project. The possible exit points are:

PG Certificate (60 Credit Points)
PG Diploma (120 Credit Points)
MSc (180 Credit Points)

We only accept applications to the 180 Credit MSc course. The PG Diploma and PG Certificate are exit points only and are not standalone qualifications.

Key Facts

  • Attend flight school and receive advanced training leading to the possibility of a pilot qualification recognised by the UK CAA
  • Design, build and fly your own sophisticated unmanned airvehicle
  • This MSc is supported by a number of major UK companies including BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, QinetiQ and Cobham
Working on UAV designs
Working on UAV designs
Design, build and test your own UAV
Design, build and test your own UAV
2SEAS research project

2Seas research project

The 2Seas project is a European funded research project aimed at developing a low cost maritime surveillance aircraft

Deep Sleep project

Underwater storage and deployment of small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Watch the video

The world's first printed aircraft

Engineers at the University of Southampton have designed and flown the world's first 'printed' aircraft, SULSA

Watch the video


The European Interreg 2Seas 3i- project stimulates the use of unmanned aerial vehicles in the maritime environment

Watch the video

'B Go Beyond' expendables 3 drone

B is a revolutionary new remote controlled hybrid car-helicopter

Watch the video

Delta Wing

Testing the FPV system

Watch the video

Flight testing: UAVs

Undergraduate students' Group Design Projects

Watch the video
Photo of Mike Emptage
The most enjoyable aspect of the course was the group design module, as we were given the opportunity and resources to design and build a small unmanned aerial vehicle (up to 7 kg). We were encouraged to be as innovative as possible and had great support in achieving our goals.
Mike EmptageMSc Unmanned Aircraft Systems Design

Typical entry requirements

Honours Degree

This MSc course is aimed primarily at people with mechanical or aerospace engineering degrees. However, well qualified and motivated applicants with other degrees (for example electronics) will be considered. The admissions criteria will allow such individuals but they will be encouraged to undertake a suitably amended syllabus to ensure they acquire the necessary base skills.

Upper second class honours degree (2:1 or an equivalent standard in other qualifications approved by the University) in Engineering, Mathematics, Physical Sciences or a related subject. Those candidates with relevant employment experience will be considered if they do not meet the requirements. Applications are assessed individually, and any candidates who do not match the standard profile but who have appropriate academic qualifications and/or industry experience are encouraged to apply.

Equivalent Qualifications

Relevant employment experience would be considered if a candidate does not meet the formal qualifications requirements. We are always happy to receive applications from candidates with an equivalent standard in other qualifications approved by the University. If you are unsure about our entry criteria, please contact our admissions staff who would be happy to provide advice in advance of your application.

English Language requirements

All applicants must demonstrate they possess at least a minimum standard of English language proficiency:
Band B, IELTS 6.5 overall, with a minimum of 5.5 in all components.
Find out more about the University's English Language requirements.

Selection process

Intake: 20

All individuals are selected and treated on their relative merits and abilities in line with the University’s Equal Opportunities Policy. Disabled applicants will be treated according to the same procedures as any other applicant with the added involvement of the Disability Office to assess their needs. The course may require adaptation for students with disabilities (e.g. hearing impairment, visual impairment, mobility difficulties, dyslexia), particularly the practical laboratory sessions, and we will attempt to accommodate students wherever possible.

This page contains specific entry requirements for this course. Find out about equivalent entry requirements and qualifications for your country.

Typical course content

The central modules aim to cover topics that directly relate to and enable students to design the vehicle platform. Hence fluids, structures, design, materials manufacturing and reliability are covered in the core. It is expected that students should have studied these topics at undergraduate level. Where this is not the case students will be expected to undertake other modules and remedial work to bring them up to the necessary level.

Year 1

The first eight months are normally spent mainly on the taught component, with lectures divided into two 12-week periods (semesters 1 and 2), and with exams at the end of each semester.

The final four months are spent full-time on an Individual Project, which accounts for 60 credit points, six of which are allocated to an oral presentation.

Group Design Project

The Group Design Project enables students to undertake a full design/build/test cycle for a given Unmanned Systems Design brief within a multidisciplinary team of students. Students will be put into small teams. Each team will be given a civil or commercial mission specification. They will then have a number of milestones they will have to meet, including concept generation, evaluation and selection, culminating in the construction and testing of the system in the real-world.

Autopilot systems

Each team will be issued with a sophisticated autopilot system, ground station and telemetry.

The autopilot serves two purposes. Firstly it will enable each team to accurately measure the performance of their aircraft (stall speed, maximum level speed, rate of climb etc). Secondly students will be able to write control scripts for their test flights so that all test flying can be carried out under automatic control.  This has the benefit of giving students experience of flight automation and autonomy but also allows the aircraft to fly much more accurate flight profiles than is possible under manual control.

Individual project

Each student will be required to undertake an individual project. Generally students will undertake a project of their own choosing. The individual project will start in the second semester and will be completed in September.

Examples of individual projects include:

  • Development of miniature variable pitch propulsion
  • Multi-rotor automated Li-Po battery changer
  • In-flight thrust measuring
  • Structronics
  • Automated camera control and feature recognition
  • High precision automated landing
  • Novel Low cost higher accuracy manufacturing processes
  • Hybrid Vehicles
  • Comparison of fixed and retractable undercarriages
  • High precision height sensing
  • Horizon sensing
  • Automated tracking of vehicles
Semester One

The compulsory modules total 90 credit points. You must select 30 credits from the optional modules below.

Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Semester Two
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).
Credits are based on the Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme (CATS).

Please note: This specification provides a concise summary of the main features of the programme and the learning outcomes that a typical student might reasonably be expected to achieve and demonstrate if s/he takes full advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided. More detailed information can be found in the programme handbook (or other appropriate guide or website).

Tuition fees

List of tuition fees for this course and it's variations
Course TitleAwardYear of entryMode of studyUK/EUInternational
Unmanned Aircraft Systems DesignMSc 2020Full-time£9,250£23,136
View the full list of course fees


Scholarships, bursaries, sponsorships or grants may be available to support you through your course. Funding opportunities available to you are linked to your subject area and/or your country of origin. These can be from the University of Southampton or other sources.

Explore funding opportunities

Costs associated with this course

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

There will also be further costs for the following, not purchasable from the University:

OtherApproved Calculators: Candidates may use calculators in the examination room only as specified by the University and as permitted by the rubric of individual examination papers. The University approved models are Casio FX-570 and Casio FX-85GT Plus. These may be purchased from any source and no longer need to carry the University logo.
StationeryYou will be expected to provide your own day-to-day stationary items, e.g. pens, pencils, notebooks, etc). Any specialist stationery items will be specified under the Additional Costs tab of the relevant module profile.
BooksWhere a module specifies core texts these should generally be available on the reserve list in the library. However due to demand, students may prefer to buy their own copies. These can be purchased from any source. Some modules suggest reading texts as optional background reading. The library may hold copies of such texts, or alternatively you may wish to purchase your own copies. Although not essential reading, you may benefit from the additional reading materials for the module.
EquipmentDesign equipment and materials: Standard construction/modelling materials will be provided where appropriate, unless otherwise specified in a module profile. For customisation of designs/models calling for material other than standard construction/ modelling materials, students will bear the costs of such alternatives.

In some cases you'll be able to choose modules (which may have different costs associated with that module) which will change the overall cost of a programme to you. Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Teaching and learning

The range of subject matter covered in the modules calls for varied teaching and learning techniques. These will include lectures, tutorials, individual and group planning exercises and practical work. You will be encouraged to openly communicate your professional experiences, exchange ideas and knowledge share. One-to-one tutorials are also arranged to cater for individual learning differences.

Ground-breaking research

Your education will be timely and relevant while you are taught by our world-leading academics who are at the forefront of their field. This is especially important in engineering where technology is advancing rapidly. We also have a global network of companies, shared facilities and expertise to draw on to advance your learning curve.

Research project

Candidates wishing to obtain an MSc will carry out a research project and complete a dissertation. Research projects may concern any of the areas covered by the course. The research project will bring together all the acquired skills learnt on the course, and demonstrate in-depth knowledge of one or more of the subject areas studied. It will involve sourcing and gathering information, critical analysis, and evaluation and presentation skills. The project should contain your own original ideas. It should also exceed the existing standard of technical design, and address a novel problem that requires the application of new research.

Assessment and examinations

Testing is conducted through a combination of unseen written examinations and assessed coursework in the form of problem solving exercises, laboratory reports, design exercises, essays, and individual and group projects. Experimental, research and design skills are assessed through laboratory reports, coursework exercises and oral presentations.

Student support

Every student is assigned a personal tutor from the start of their degree.


We have our own team of administrators who act as a point of contact for day-to-day advice and information for postgraduate students. They are also responsible for collecting assignments and issuing the documents and forms which are required during your period of study.

Course Lead

Dr Zhiwei Hu

Study locations

Boldrewood Innovation Campus

Boldrewood Innovation Campus

Burgess Road, Southampton, S016 7QFFind out more

Related Courses

Share this course Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings