Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Brian M. Argrow

Second Advisor

Dale A. Lawrence

Third Advisor

Eric W. Frew

Fourth Advisor

Gijs DeBoer

Fifth Advisor

John Farnsworth


Accurate sensing of relative air flow direction from fixed-wing small unmanned aircraft (sUAS) is challenging with existing multi-hole pitot-static and vane systems. Sub-degree direction accuracy is generally not available on such systems and disturbances to the local flow field, induced by the airframe, introduce an additional error source.

An optical imaging approach to make a relative air velocity measurement with high-directional accuracy is presented. Optical methods offer the capability to make a proximal measurement in undisturbed air outside of the local flow field without the need to place sensors on vulnerable probes extended ahead of the aircraft. Current imaging flow analysis techniques for laboratory use rely on relatively thin imaged volumes and sophisticated hardware and intensity thresholding in low-background conditions. A new method is derived and assessed using a particle streak imaging technique that can be implemented with low-cost commercial cameras and illumination systems, and can function in imaged volumes of arbitrary depth with complex background signal.

The new technique, referred to as particle streak anemometry (PSA) (to differentiate from particle streak velocimetry which makes a field measurement rather than a single bulk flow measurement) utilizes a modified Canny Edge detection algorithm with a connected component analysis and principle component analysis to detect streak ends in complex imaging conditions. A linear solution for the air velocity direction is then implemented with a random sample consensus (RANSAC) solution approach. A single DOF non-linear, non-convex optimization problem is then solved for the air speed through an iterative approach. The technique was tested through simulation and wind tunnel tests yielding angular accuracies under 0.2 degrees, superior to the performance of existing commercial systems. Air speed error standard deviations varied from 1.6 to 2.2 m/s depending on the techniques of implementation. While air speed sensing is secondary to accurate flow direction measurement, the air speed results were in line with commercial pitot static systems at low speeds.