Autonomous control of parafoil and payload systems using upper surface canopy spoilers

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Scheuermann, Edward J.
Costello, Mark
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With the advent of steerable, ram air parafoil canopies, aerial payload delivery has become a viable alternative for situations involving remote or undeveloped areas, hostile environments, or otherwise inaccessible locations. Autonomously guided systems utilizing such steerable, ram air canopies are typically controlled by symmetric and asymmetric deflection of the canopy trailing edge. Although these systems have demonstrated substantial improvement in landing accuracy over similarly sized unguided systems, their low number of available control channels and limited ability to alter vehicle glide slope during flight makes them highly susceptible to atmospheric gusts and other unknown conditions near the target area. This research aims to improve landing accuracy in such adverse conditions by replacing the standard trailing edge deflection control mechanism in favor of upper surface canopy spoilers. These spoilers operate by opening several spanwise slits in the upper surface of the parafoil canopy thus forming a virtual spoiler from the stream of expelled pressurized air. In particular, estimation of steady-state vehicle flight characteristics in response to different symmetric and asymmetric spoiler openings was determined for two different small-scale test vehicles. Additionally, improvements in autonomous landing accuracy using upper surface spoilers in a combined lateral and longitudinal control scheme was investigated computationally using a high fidelity, 6-DOF dynamic model of the test vehicle and further validated in actual flight experiments with good results. Lastly, a novel in-canopy bleed air actuation system suitable for large-scale parafoil aircraft was designed, fabricated, and flight-tested. The in-canopy system consists of several small, specifically designed wireless winch actuators mounted entirely inside the parafoil canopy. Each in-canopy actuator is capable of opening one or more upper surface canopy spoilers via a unique internal rigging structure. This system demonstrates not only the applicability of bleed air spoiler control for large-scale autonomous parafoil and payload aircraft, but also provides the potential for significant savings in size, weight, and cost of the required actuation hardware for currently fielded systems.
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