Optimal Trajectory Control of Morphing Aircraft in Perching Maneuvers
Since the Wright Brothers’ first successful designs, wing deformation has been critical in enabling stable flight. The brothers’ aircraft used twist in the bending of the wings akin to the motion of birds, which twist their wings in order to generate differential lift between the wings, thus enabling roll control. Not only was this the first aircraft, it was also the first to incorporate morphing capabilities. As aircraft became heavier, wing twisting gave way to the use of ailerons. Here, we will explore morphing as a reconfiguration of critical aircraft components: wings, tail and fuselage. By defining new degrees of freedom for the aircraft—wing incidence, tail boom angle, and tail incidence—we can change aircraft configurations in-flight, giving the aircraft continuously variable mechanical and aerodynamic characteristics for increased maneuverability.
In the late 1990s, DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office funded a program called the Smart Materials Demonstration Program (Sanders et al. 2004). Smart materials are a class of materials that can be activated by various forms of energy, such as electricity, heat and even light. In this program, Kudva et al. developed an aircraft with a seamless wing capable of changing its trailing edge continuously as a function of span (Kudva 2004). This new ...