Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Aerospace Engineering


Aerospace Engineering


Eric A. Mehiel


A thermal is a column of warm rising air triggered by differential heating on the ground. In recent studies UAVs were programmed to exploit this free atmospheric energy from thermals to improve their range and endurance. Researchers had successfully flown UAVs autonomously with thermal soaring method. Most research involved some form of flight simulation. Improvements to the aircraft and thermal models for simulation purpose would enable researchers to better design their UAVs and explore any potential flaws in their designs. An aircraft simulation with a thermal environment was created in Horizon Simulation Framework, a modeling and verification framework that was developed by Cal Poly Space Technologies and Applied Research laboratory. The objective of this study is to enhance the fidelity of existing modeling and simulation methods on autonomous thermal soaring, and to advance and demonstrate the capabilities of Horizon Simulation Framework through such implementation. The geometry of a small remote controlled glider was used in this simulation. Aerodynamic prediction programs DATCOM+ and AVL were used to obtained stability and control derivatives for this glider. The induced roll effect caused by the asymmetric vertical velocity distribution of a thermal was included in the aerodynamic roll moment calculation. The autonomous guidance algorithm for the glider included a turn logic which would determine the correct turn direction for the glider when a thermal is detected. The thermal model developed in this thesis included the capabilities to vary the time dependent location, height, radius, and vertical velocity characteristics of naturally occurring thermals.