In this dissertation, we focus on the strategy that places and stabilizes the path of an aerial drogue, which is towed by a mothership aircraft using a long flexible cable, onto a horizontally flat orbit by maneuvering the mothership in the presence of wind. To achieve this goal, several studies for towed cable systems are conducted, which include the dynamic modeling for the cable, trajectory generation strategies for the mothership, trajectory-tracking control law design, and simulation and flight test implementations. First, a discretized approximation method based on finite element and lumped mass is employed to establish the mathematical model for the towed cable system in the simulation. Two approaches, Gauss's Principle and Newton's second law, are utilized to derive the equations of motion for inelastic and elastic cables, respectively. The preliminary studies for several key parameters of the system are conducted to learn their sensitivities to the system motion in the steady state. Flight test results are used to validate the mathematical model as well as to determine an appropriate number of cable links. Furthermore, differential flatness and model predictive control based methods are used to produce a mothership trajectory that leads the drogue onto a desired orbit. Different desired drogue orbits are utilized to generate required mothership trajectories in different wind conditions. The trajectory generation for a transitional flight in which the system flies from a straight and level flight into a circular orbit is also presented. The numerical results are presented to illustrate the required mothership orbits and its maneuverability in different wind conditions. A waypoint following based strategy for mothership to track its desired trajectory in flight test is developed. The flight test results are also presented to illustrate the effectiveness of the trajectory generation methods. In addition, a nonlinear time-varying feedback control law is developed to regulate the mothership to follow the desired trajectory in the presence of wind. Cable tensions and wind disturbance are taken into account in the design model and Lyapunov based backstepping technique is employed to develop the controller. The mothership tracking error is proved to be capable of exponentially converging to an ultimate bound, which is a function of the upper limit of the unknown component of the wind. The simulation results are presented to validate the controller. Finally, a trajectory-tracking strategy for unmanned aerial vehicles is developed where the autopilot is involved in the feedback controller design. The trajectory-tracking controller is derived based on a generalized design model using Lyapunov based backstepping. The augmentations of the design model and trajectory-tracking controller are conducted to involve the autopilot in the closed-loop system. Lyapunov stability theory is used to guarantee the augmented controller is capable of driving the vehicle to exponentially converge to and follow the desired trajectory with the other states remaining bounded. Numerical and Software-In-the-Loop simulation results are presented to validate the augmented controller. This method presents a framework of implementing the developed trajectory-tracking controllers for unmanned aerial vehicles without any modification to the autopilot.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Electrical and Computer Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





towed cable system, trajectory generation, trajectory tracking, model predictive control, differential flatness, autopilot in the loop, aerial recovery