Fixed-Wing UAV Formations for Measuring Atmospheric Turbulence

Grants and Contracts Details


The emergence of autonomous unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) offers an unprecedented opportunity for research focused on obtaining airborne measurements such as atmospheric turbulence, which arises near the Earth’s surface. These measurements are valuable for advancing scientific knowledge of atmospheric turbulence and for a wide variety of airborne sensing applications. For example, consider a railway accident in which airborne pollutants are released. In this case, UAVs could be used to obtain flowfield measurements, sample chemical concentrations, and track pollutants to their sources. Thus, the UAVs serve as sensor platforms that can be optimally positioned in space and time to make key observations regarding the emergency situation. However, a single UAV can measure at only a single location at each instant in time. In contrast, a group of cooperative UAVs could provide distributed measurements. The objective of this project is to measure atmospheric turbulence using a group of cooperative fixed-wing autonomous UAVs. Thus, this project is a proof-of-concept experimental demonstration of formation-flying control for obtaining distributed airborne measurements. This project will leverage the BLUECAT 5 UAVs (shown in Figure 1), which are long-endurance (i.e., 45 minute) UAVs developed by the co-PI and equipped with a sensor package for atmospheric data acquisition. The project will also leverage the PI’s recent advances in discrete-time cooperative control to design and implement a relative-positionbased formation-control method for a group of three BLUECAT 5 UAVs. These UAVs will fly in formations where the separation distance is 3 to 5 meters. Our specific goal is to complete a successful experimental demonstration of the distributed airborne measurement system by the fall of 2017.
Effective start/end date1/1/177/31/18


  • National Aeronautics and Space Administration


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