Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Eric W. Frew

Second Advisor

Brian Argrow

Third Advisor

Timothy X Brown

Fourth Advisor

Derek B. Kingston

Fifth Advisor

Dale A. Lawrence


This dissertation develops and assesses a cascaded method for designing optimal periodic trajectories and link schedules for an unmanned aircraft to ferry data between stationary ground nodes. This results in a fast solution method without the need to artificially constrain system dynamics. Focusing on a fundamental ferrying problem that involves one source and one destination, but includes complex vehicle and Radio- Frequency (RF) dynamics, a cascaded structure to the system dynamics is uncovered. This structure is exploited by reformulating the nonlinear optimization problem into one that reduces the independent control to the vehicle's motion, while the link scheduling control is folded into the objective function and implemented as an optimal policy that depends on candidate motion control. This formulation is proven to maintain optimality while reducing computation time in comparison to traditional ferry optimization methods. The discrete link scheduling problem takes the form of a combinatorial optimization problem that is known to be NP-Hard. A derived necessary condition for optimality guides the development of several heuristic algorithms, specifically the Most-Data-First Algorithm and the Knapsack Adaptation. These heuristics are extended to larger ferrying scenarios, and assessed analytically and through Monte Carlo simulation, showing better throughput performance in the same order of magnitude of computation time in comparison to other common link scheduling policies. The cascaded optimization method is implemented with a novel embedded software system on a small, unmanned aircraft to validate the simulation results with field experiments. To address the sensitivity of results on trajectory tracking performance, a system that combines motion and link control with waypoint-based navigation is developed and assessed through field experiments. The data ferrying algorithms are further extended by incorporating a Gaussian process to opportunistically learn the RF environment. By continuously improving RF models, the cascaded planner can continually improve the ferrying system's overall performance.