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An integral approach for aircraft pitch control and instrumentation in a wind-tunnel

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Purpose: Aircraft pitch control is fundamental for the performance of micro aerial vehicles (MAVs). The purpose of this paper is to establish a simple experimental procedure to calibrate pitch instrumentation and classical control algorithms. This includes developing an efficient pitch angle observer with optimal estimation and evaluating controllers under uncertainty and external disturbances. Design/methodology/approach: A wind tunnel test bench is designed to simulate fixed-wing aircraft dynamics. Key elements of the instrumentation commonly found in MAVs are characterized in a gyroscopic test bench. A data fusion algorithm is calibrated to match the gyroscopic test bench measurements and is then integrated into the autopilot platform. The elevator-angle to pitch-angle dynamic model is obtained experimentally. Two different control algorithms, based on model-free and model-based approaches, are designed. These controllers are analyzed in terms of parametric uncertainties due to wind speed variations and external perturbation because of sudden weight distribution changes. A series of experimental tests is performed in wind-tunnel facilities to highlight the main features of each control approach. Findings: With regard to the instrumentation algorithms, a simple experimental methodology for the design of optimal pitch angle observer is presented and validated experimentally. In the context of the platform design and identification, the similitude among the theoretical and experimental responses shows that the platform is suitable for typical pitch control assessment. The wind tunnel experiments show that a fixed linear controller, designed using classical frequency domain concepts, is able to provide adequate responses in scenarios that approximate the operation of MAVs. Research limitations/implications: The aircraft orientation observer can be used for both pitch and roll angles. However, for simultaneousyaw angle estimation the proposed design method requires further research. The model analysis considers a wind speed range of 6-18 m/s, with a nominal operation of 12 m/s. The maximum experimentally tested reference for the pitch angle controller was 20°. Further operating conditions may require more complex control approaches (e.g. scheduling, non-linear, etc.). However, this operating range is enough for typical MAV missions. Originality/value: The study shows the design of an effective pitch angle observer, based on a simple experimental approach, which achieved locally optimum estimates at the test conditions. Additionally, the instrumentation and design of a test bench for typical pitch control assessment in wind tunnel facilities is presented. Finally, the study presents the development of a simple controller that provides adequate responses in scenarios that approximate the operation of MAVs, including perturbations that resemble package delivery and parametric uncertainty due to wind speed variations.




Villarreal Valderrama, J. F., Takano, L., Liceaga-Castro, E., Hernandez-Alcantara, D., Zambrano-Robledo, P. D. C., & Amezquita-Brooks, L. (2020). An integral approach for aircraft pitch control and instrumentation in a wind-tunnel. Aircraft Engineering and Aerospace Technology, 92(7), 1111–1123.

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