Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Electrical Engineering

Major Professor

Kimon P. Valavanis, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Wilfrido A. Moreno, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Buckle, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Elias Stefanakos, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Abraham Kandel, Ph.D.

Committee Member

George Vachtsevanos, Ph.D.


Helicopter Control, Aerial Robotics, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, System Identification, Backstepping Control


The main characteristic attribute of the rotorcraft is the use of rotary wings to produce the thrust force necessary for motion. Therefore, rotorcraft have an advantage relative to fixed wing aircraft because they do not require any relative velocity to produce aerodynamic forces. Rotorcraft have been used in a wide range of missions of civilian and military applications. Particular interest has been concentrated in applications related to search and rescue in environments that impose restrictions to human presence and interference.

The main representative of the rotorcraft family is the helicopter. Small scale helicopters retain all the flight characteristics and physical principles of their full scale counterpart. In addition, they are naturally more agile and dexterous compared to full scale helicopters. Their flight capabilities, reduced size and cost have monopolized the attention of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles research community for the development of low cost and efficient autonomous flight platforms.

Helicopters are highly nonlinear systems with significant dynamic coupling. In general, they are considered to be much more unstable than fixed wing aircraft and constant control must be sustained at all times. The goal of this dissertation is to investigate the challenging design problem of autonomous flight controllers for small scale helicopters. A typical flight control system is composed of a mathematical algorithm that produces the appropriate command signals required to perform autonomous flight.

Modern control techniques are model based, since the controller architecture depends on the dynamic description of the system to be controlled. This principle applies to the helicopter as well, therefore, the flight control problem is tightly connected with the helicopter modeling. The helicopter dynamics can be represented by both linear and nonlinear models of ordinary differential equations. Theoretically, the validity of the linear models is restricted in a certain region around a specific operating point. Contrary, nonlinear models provide a global description of the helicopter dynamics.

This work proposes several detailed control designs based on both dynamic representations of small scale helicopters. The controller objective is for the helicopter to autonomously track predefined position (or velocity) and heading reference trajectories. The controllers performance is evaluated using X-Plane, a realistic and commercially available flight simulator.