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Home arrow Engineering arrow Small Unmanned Fixed-Wing Aircraft Design. A Practical Approach



Unmanned air vehicles (sometimes uninhabited air vehicles or even systems, UAVs or UASs) are becoming an increasingly common sight across the globe. Originally the preserve of very secretive military organizations, they are now in routine use by film crews, farmers, search and rescue teams, hobbyists, and so on. Most of the technological difficulties in building a system that can start, take off, fly a mission, and return without human intervention have been overcome, and the wider adoption of these technologies is now mostly a matter of cost, public acceptance, and regulatory approval. The only remaining technological challenges essentially concern the degree of on-board autonomy and decision making such vehicles can provide. If secure and robust communications to a ground-based pilot can be maintained to provide decision-making capabilities, very ambitious missions can be quite readily accomplished. On-board decision making is less well advanced but developments continue apace.

The origins of our interest in UAVs stem from the many years we have spent in the business of design, both practical and academic, teaching, and research. This has exposed us to a great deal of related activity in the aerospace and marine sectors, whose processes have changed considerably over the time we have been involved. A reoccurring theme throughout has been rapid evolution in the software toolset used to support designers, and it is in this area we have been principally engaged. Central to our views is a way of looking at engineering design that distinguishes between synthesis (the business of generating new or changed descriptions of artifacts) and analysis (where one uses the laws of physics, experiments, and past experience to assess the likely or actual performance of the designed artifact). It is by the use of formal analysis and experimentation to ascribe value to an artifact that engineering design distinguishes itself from other forms of design. Thus, to be useful in the world of engineering design, tools must either help describe the product or process being designed, analyze it, or support the delivery and integration of these processes - all else is just bureaucracy: design should always be seen as a decision-making process.

In this book we focus on one particular aspect of the rapidly growing area of UAV technology: the design, construction, and operation of low-cost, fixed-wing UAVs in the 2-150 kg maximum take-off weight (MTOW) class flying at low subsonic speeds. Such vehicles can offer long-endurance, robust platforms capable of operating for 10 h or more on budgets well below $100 000, often less than $10 000. They can carry significant payloads and operate from relatively simple ground facilities. In what follows, an approach to designing and building such UAVs, developed over many years at the University of Southampton, is set out. While there are, no doubt, many other valid ways of producing UAVs, the one described here works for us, providing effective low-cost platforms for teaching, research, and commercial exploitation.

Andrew J. Keane, Andras Sobester and James P. Scanlan

Southampton, UK, 2017

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