Date of Award

12-2013

Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering

Department

Aerospace Engineering

Advisor

Eric Mehiel

Abstract

Fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with the ability to hover combine the speed and endurance of traditional fixed-wing fight with the stable hovering and vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) capabilities of helicopters and quadrotors. This combination of abilities can provide strategic advantages for UAV operators, especially when operating in urban environments where the airspace may be crowded with obstacles. Traditionally, fixed-wing UAVs with hovering capabilities had to be custom designed for specific payloads and missions, often requiring custom autopilots and unconventional airframe configurations. With recent government spending cuts, UAV operators like the military and law enforcement agencies have been urging UAV developers to make their aircraft cheaper, more versatile, and easier to repair. This thesis discusses the use of the commercially available ArduPilot open source autopilot, to autonomously transition a fixed-wing UAV to and from hover flight. Software modifications were made to the ArduPilot firmware to add hover flight modes using both Proportional, Integral, Derivative (PID) Control and Model Reference Adaptive Control (MRAC) with the goal of making the controllers robust enough so that anyone in the ArduPilot community could use their own ArduPilot board and their own fixed-wing airframe (as long as it has enough power to maintain stable hover) to achieve autonomous hover after some simple gain tuning. Three new hover flight modes were developed and tested first in simulation and then in flight using an E-Flight Carbon Z Yak 54 RC aircraft model, which was equipped with an ArduPilot 2.5 autopilot board. Results from both the simulations and flight test experiments where the airplane transitions both to and from autonomous hover flight are presented.