Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Eric Frew

Second Advisor

Brian Argrow

Third Advisor

Adam L. Houston


The focus of this work is the implementation of an energy-aware trajectory optimization algorithm that enables small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) to operate in unknown, dynamic severe weather environments. The software is designed as a component of an Energy-Aware Dynamic Data Driven Application System (EA-DDDAS) for sUAS. This work addresses the challenges of integrating and executing an online trajectory optimization algorithm during mission operations in the field. Using simplified aircraft kinematics, the energy-aware algorithm enables extraction of kinetic energy from measured winds to optimize thrust use and endurance during flight. The optimization layer, based upon a nonlinear program formulation, extracts energy by exploiting strong wind velocity gradients in the wind field, a process known as dynamic soaring. The trajectory optimization layer extends the energy-aware path planner developed by Wenceslao Shaw-Cortez [16] to include additional mission configurations, simulations with a 6-DOF model, and validation of the system with flight testing in June 2015 in Lubbock, Texas. The trajectory optimization layer interfaces with several components within the EA-DDDAS to provide an sUAS with optimal flight trajectories in real-time during severe weather. As a result, execution timing, data transfer, and scalability are considered in the design of the software. Severe weather also poses a measure of unpredictability to the system with respect to communication between systems and available data resources during mission operations. A heuristic mission tree with different cost functions and constraints is implemented to provide a level of adaptability to the optimization layer. Simulations and flight experiments are performed to assess the efficacy of the trajectory optimization layer. The results are used to assess the feasibility of flying dynamic soaring trajectories with existing controllers as well as to verify the interconnections between EA-DDDAS components. Results also demonstrate the usage of the trajectory optimization layer in conjunction with a lattice-based path planner as a method of guiding the optimization layer and stitching together subsequent trajectories.