Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice

Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice

Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice

Small Unmanned Aircraft: Theory and Practice


Autonomous unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) are critical to current and future military, civil, and commercial operations. Despite their importance, no previous textbook has accessibly introduced UAVs to students in the engineering, computer, and science disciplines--until now. Small Unmanned Aircraft provides a concise but comprehensive description of the key concepts and technologies underlying the dynamics, control, and guidance of fixed-wing unmanned aircraft, and enables all students with an introductory-level background in controls or robotics to enter this exciting and important area.

The authors explore the essential underlying physics and sensors of UAV problems, including low-level autopilot for stability and higher-level autopilot functions of path planning. The textbook leads the student from rigid-body dynamics through aerodynamics, stability augmentation, and state estimation using onboard sensors, to maneuvering through obstacles. To facilitate understanding, the authors have replaced traditional homework assignments with a simulation project using the MATLAB/Simulink environment. Students begin by modeling rigid-body dynamics, then add aerodynamics and sensor models. They develop low-level autopilot code, extended Kalman filters for state estimation, path-following routines, and high-level path-planning algorithms. The final chapter of the book focuses on UAV guidance using machine vision.

Designed for advanced undergraduate or graduate students in engineering or the sciences, this book offers a bridge to the aerodynamics and control of UAV flight.


Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are playing increasingly prominent roles in defense programs and defense strategy around the world. Technology advancements have enabled the development of both large unmanned aircraft (e.g., Global Hawk, Predator) and smaller, increasingly capable unmanned aircraft (e.g., Wasp, Nighthawk). As recent conflicts have demonstrated, there are numerous military applications for unmanned aircraft, including reconnaissance, surveillance, battle damage assessment, and communications relays.

Civil and commercial applications are not as well developed, although potential applications are extremely broad in scope, including environmental monitoring (e.g., pollution, weather, and scientific applications), forest fire monitoring, homeland security, border patrol, drug interdiction, aerial surveillance and mapping, traffic monitoring, precision agriculture, disaster relief, ad hoc communications networks, and rural search and rescue. For many of these applications to develop to maturity, the reliability of UAS needs to increase, their capabilities need to be extended further, their ease of use needs to be improved, and their cost must decrease. In addition to these technical and economic challenges, the regulatory challenge of integrating unmanned aircraft into national and international air space needs to be overcome.

The terminology unmanned aircraft system refers not only to the aircraft, but also to all of the supporting equipment used in the system, including sensors, microcontrollers, software, groundstation computers, user interfaces, and communications hardware. This text focuses on the aircraft and its guidance, navigation, and control subsystems. Unmanned aircraft (UA) can generally be divided into two categories: fixed-wing aircraft and rotorcraft. Both types of aircraft have distinctive characteristics that make autonomous behavior difficult to design. In this book we focus exclusively on fixed-wing aircraft, which can be roughly categorized by size. We use the term small unmanned aircraft to refer to the class of fixed-wing aircraft with a wing span between 5 and 10 feet. Small unmanned aircraft are usually gas powered and typically require a runway for take off and landing, although the Boeing ScanEagle, which uses a catapult for take off and a skyhook for recovery, is a notable exception. Small unmanned aircraft are typically designed to operate on the order of 10 to 12 hours, with payloads of approximately 10 to 50 pounds.

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