NASA's Langley Research Center has developed an in-flight global nonlinear aerodynamics modeling and simulation system. The technology replaces the normal labor-intensive iterative process of repeated flight tests and combining locally valid models with a single flight and automatically developed globally valid model. The technology is highly accurate and efficient for developing global aerodynamic and thrust models for aircraft.
This technology, the first phase in a suite of technologies designed to control autonomous (unmanned) vehicles, is a method of developing a model that characterizes the aerodynamics and/or thrust of an airplane or spacecraft. The model is developed and flight-validated by tracking data relevant to the aircraft's response to controls and external forces acting on the vehicle. Current technology requires that repeated test flights be made to gather data from different flight conditions, followed by evaluation and analysis on the ground, to eventually yield a combined linear, approximate model. This NASA technology, however, can accomplish the development of a validated, high-fidelity, global, nonlinear model in as little as a single flight.
The technology is part of the “Learn to Fly” project to develop real-time models and controllers for autonomous aircraft and spacecraft. For use in piloted aircraft, the system can provide alerts in dangerous conditions, such as tail icing, and detect abnormal aircraft responses. Potential applications include not only aircraft, but also spacecraft, watercraft, and self-driving cars and trucks. Numerous test flights have been conducted to develop and validate the technology.