Developing robust UAV autopilot controllers for flight in icing

**NEW PUBLICATION**  In-flight icing is a severe risk for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). In these conditions, ice accumulates on the wings and propellers which disturbs the airfoil. As a consequence, the aerodynamic performance of the wings and propeller is reduced. Ice also reduces the effectiveness of the control surfaces. Most UAVs use an autopilot system for flying which typically cannot cope well with these icing performance losses. In the worst case, the autopilot may even steer the UAV into a situation where it cannot maintain stable flight – and crash.

In our recent publication, we explore the use of a more robust autopilot, that can deal with the icing effects in a safe manner. We compare a model reference adaptive control (MRAC) scheme to PID controllers to maintain stable flight in icing conditions. The findings show that MRAC control scheme and the PID controller demonstrate similar qualities in tracking performance, with the MRAC performing better under certain conditions.

Reference: Högnadottir, S., Gryte, G., Hann, R., Johansen, T.A. (2023). Inner-Loop Control of Fixed-Wing Unmanned Aerial Vehicles in Icing Conditions. AIAA Sci-Tech Conference. DOI: 10.2514/6.2023-1049

Text: Richard Hann

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