Automatic Control for Aerobatic Maneuvering of Agile Fixed-Wing UAVs


The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) has become ubiquitous in a broadening range of applications, including many civilian uses. UAVs are typically categorized into two categories: conventional fixed-wing aircraft, which are associated with efficient flight over long distances, and rotor-craft, which are associated with short flights requiring maneuverability. An emerging class of UAVs, agile fixed-wing UAVs, are bridging the gap between fixed-wing and rotor-craft with efficient and maneuverable flight capabilities. This article presents a single physics-based controller capable of aerobatic maneuvering of agile fixed-wing UAVs. We first demonstrate autonomous flight in a conventional high-fidelity in-house simulation with this controller, and then implement the algorithm on a Pixhawk micro-controller. A hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) environment is developed and used to further develop autonomous aerobatic flight, followed by outdoor flight tests in windy conditions. Our control system successfully tracks position and orientation times histories to achieve autonomous extreme aerobatic maneuvers including knife-edge, rolling Harrier, hover, and aggressive turnaround.

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A short version of this paper was presented in ICUAS 2017 [16]. The authors thank Michael Verrecchia for flight testing assistance and Waqas Khan for providing the agile aircraft dynamics model.

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Correspondence to Eitan Bulka.

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Table 1 Aircraft properties
Table 2 Controller gains

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Bulka, E., Nahon, M. Automatic Control for Aerobatic Maneuvering of Agile Fixed-Wing UAVs. J Intell Robot Syst 93, 85–100 (2019).

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  • Control architectures
  • Agile Fixed-Wing UAVs
  • Aerobatics
  • Unmanned aerial vehicles