Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Rob McDonald



Multidisciplinary Design Optimization of an Extreme Aspect Ratio HALE UAV

Bryan J. Morrisey

Development of High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) aircraft systems is part of a vision for a low cost communications/surveillance capability. Applications of a multi payload aircraft operating for extended periods at stratospheric altitudes span military and civil genres and support battlefield operations, communications, atmospheric or agricultural monitoring, surveillance, and other disciplines that may currently require satellite-based infrastructure. Presently, several development efforts are underway in this field, including a project sponsored by DARPA that aims at producing an aircraft that can sustain flight for multiple years and act as a pseudo-satellite. Design of this type of air vehicle represents a substantial challenge because of the vast number of engineering disciplines required for analysis, and its residence at the frontier of energy technology.

The central goal of this research was the development of a multidisciplinary tool for analysis, design, and optimization of HALE UAVs, facilitating the study of a novel configuration concept. Applying design ideas stemming from a unique WWII-era project, a “pinned wing” HALE aircraft would employ self-supporting wing segments assembled into one overall flying wing. The research effort began with the creation of a multidisciplinary analysis environment comprised of analysis modules, each providing information about a specific discipline. As the modules were created, attempts were made to validate and calibrate the processes against known data, culminating in a validation study of the fully integrated MDA environment. Using the NASA / AeroVironment Helios aircraft as a basis for comparison, the included MDA environment sized a vehicle to within 5% of the actual maximum gross weight for generalized Helios payload and mission data. When wrapped in an optimization routine, the same integrated design environment shows potential for a 17.3% reduction in weight when wing thickness to chord ratio, aspect ratio, wing loading, and power to weight ratio are included as optimizer-controlled design variables.

Investigation of applying the sustained day/night mission requirement and improved technology factors to the design shows that there are potential benefits associated with a segmented or pinned wing. As expected, wing structural weight is reduced, but benefits diminish as higher numbers of wing segments are considered. For an aircraft consisting of six wing segments, a maximum of 14.2% reduction in gross weight over an advanced technology optimal baseline is predicted.