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MAE PhD Defense – Thomas C. Powers
November 2 @ 9:00 am - 11:00 am
Title: Artificial Lumbered Flight for Autonomous Soaring
Advisor: Dr. Larry Silverberg and Dr. Ashok Gopalarathnam
Date: Friday, November 2, 2018, at 9 AM
Location: EB3 Rm.# 3115
Soaring strategies are redefining the flight capabilities of small-class fixed-wing UAVs. This dissertation presents an autonomous soaring strategy that exploits updraft energy independent of the classification of an updraft. The strategy employs an artificial lumbered flight algorithm (ALFA) that weighs near-field updraft estimates and mission priorities for the navigation. This work raises the question of ALFA’s ability to handle classified updrafts. Indeed, ALFA does not explicitly consider the classification of the updraft. Instead, ALFA measures updraft data along an aircraft’s flight path, estimates updraft data ahead of the aircraft, generates candidate flight-paths ahead of the aircraft for evaluation, and then selects a best candidate flight-path based on a reward function. This dissertation describes the structure of ALFA, the tuning processes for the updraft estimator and the decision function. Flight results demonstrate the ability of artificial lumbered flight to harness atmospheric energy and complete its objectives. The flight results are considered in more detail, examining ALFA’s effectiveness when flying in and between classified updrafts. The results demonstrate the ability of artificial lumbered flight to navigate unclassified updrafts and harvest energy from thermal updrafts. Finally, this work highlights that autonomous flight design and control of small-class aircraft in the soaring flight regime that extends from above the flapping flight regime up to the lower end of the cruise flight regime, will be driven by the harvesting of energy from the atmosphere.
Thomas Cornelius Powers was born on September 5th, 1988 in Woodland California. After spending 10 years of his childhood in the Netherlands, he attended Widefield High School in Colorado Springs, and graduated in 2008. He attended Olivet Nazarene University, and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering in 2012. After working for Case New Holland in the four-wheel drive tractor group for 14 months, he enrolled in the direct-path PhD program at North Carolina State University in pursuit of Master and Doctoral degrees in Aerospace Engineering in 2013. He earned his Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering in 2018. His research interests include aircraft concept generation, preliminary aerodynamic design, and UAV applications.