Autonomous Flight

The possibilities for adaptation and implementation of unmanned flight systems have grown enormously, driven by rapid improvements in areas of technology outside of aerospace. Whereas only a few years ago, unmanned aircraft were still exotic specimens resulting from research efforts devoid of practical applications, today several possibilities for use have become imaginable. The absence of humans on board gives rise to numerous new possibilities, but also to challenges.

Thus, in order to apply unmanned flight systems to realistic tasks, a number of issues in aeronautics must be dealt with. Due to the special nature of flying, it is not possible to shut down operation of any aircraft that is heavier than air, because this would lead to a crash and thereby to possible loss of the aircraft as well as an immediate danger for persons and property on the ground.

A major goal of joint research efforts within the scope of this research topic is therefore to maximize safety, reliability, accessibility and integrity of unmanned flight systems by developing suitable architectures for flight, control, mission and safety systems. The driving factor here is how to deal with constraints. An important aspect of unmanned flight systems is the fact that they consist not only of aircraft, but also of the accompanying infrastructure on the ground and the data links between both components. Viewing the aircraft in isolation is therefore not very productive.

Because work on this key project is aimed at fulfilling defined missions, it is also important to optimize flight systems with respect to their configuration and architecture for the task at hand. Notably, unmanned systems offer a number of new degrees of freedom. In addition to the classical fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft, there are also multi-rotor systems, hybrid concepts, innovative propulsion systems, etc. to be considered.

Any work on this topic requires close cooperation with neighboring disciplines – the evaluation of results from other areas can be very fruitful. However, due to the specific constraints on flying systems, for example safety aspects, the focus of research is on areas mainly relating to aeronautics. The forward-looking goals of this project involve pioneering work and offer a lot of potential, also for industries not connected with aerospace.

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