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Control System Has What It Takes to Guide Experimental Aircraft


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X-43A Hypersonic Experimental Vehicle

The success of the X-43A has spurred research into the control systems for unmanned experimental vehicles that fly faster than the speed of sound.

NASA Dryden Flight Research Center

Ohio State University (OSU) engineers have developed control system software capable of piloting aircraft that travel faster than the speed of sound by adapting to changing conditions during a flight. OSU doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering Lisa Fiorentini, along with OSU professor Andrea Serrani, are developing a new control system with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for NASA's experimental supersonic scramjets, which burn air for fuel and could one day possibly carry people into space or around the world in only a few hours. The researchers say their controller performed flawlessly in computer simulations of flight maneuvers.

Fiorentini says the success of the X-43A hypersonic experimental vehicle has spurred research into the control systems for unmanned aircraft that fly faster than the speed of sound. She says computer controllers can guide these jets along a trajectory and keep it stable during flight. Sensors measure altitude, velocity, and acceleration, the controller calculates whether any adjustments need to be made, and actuators carry out the controller's commands, such as adjusting velocity. "Because these vehicles are unmanned right now, we have to prepare everything ahead of time — anticipate every possible in-flight event," Fiorentini says. "And the controller has to work really fast. At ten times the speed of sound, if you lose just one second, the jet has gone far, far off course." Serrani says the OSU system is unique because it allows for flexibility and adapts to changing conditions during a flight.

From Ohio State University Research News
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