Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Graham Doig


Investigation of complex multirotor aerodynamic phenomena via wind tunnel experimentation is becoming extremely important with the rapid progress in advanced distributed propulsion VTOL concepts. Much of this experimentation is being performed in large, highly advanced tunnels. However, the proliferation of this class of vehicles extends to small aircraft used by small businesses, universities, and hobbyists without ready access to this level of test facility. Therefore, there is a need to investigate whether multirotor vehicles can be adequately tested in smaller wind tunnel facilities. A test rig for a 2.82-pound quadcopter was developed to perform powered testing in the Cal Poly Aerospace Department’s Low Speed Wind Tunnel, equipped with a 3-foot tall by 4-foot wide test section. The results were compared to data from similar tests performed in the U.S. Army 7-by 10-ft Wind Tunnel at NASA Ames. The two data sets did not show close agreement in absolute terms but demonstrated similar trends. Due to measurement uncertainties, the contribution of wind tunnel interference effects to this discrepancy in measurements was not able to be properly quantified, but is likely a major contributor. Flow visualization results demonstrated that tunnel interference effects can likely be minimized by testing at high tunnel speeds with the vehicle pitched 10-degrees or more downward. Suggestions towards avoiding the pitfalls inherent to multirotor wind tunnel testing are provided. Additionally, a modified form of the conventional lift-to-drag ratio is presented as a metric of electric multirotor aerodynamic efficiency.