Unmanned aerial vehicle control costs mirror bird behaviour when soaring close to buildings

Ana Guerra-Langan, Sergio Araujo-Estrada, Shane Windsor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
110 Downloads (Pure)


Small unmanned aerial vehicles (SUAVs) are suitable for many low-altitude operations in urban environments due to their manoeuvrability; however, their flight performance is limited by their on-board energy storage and their ability to cope with high levels of turbulence. Birds exploit the atmospheric boundary layer in urban environments, reducing their energetic flight costs by using orographic lift generated by buildings. This behaviour could be mimicked by fixed-wing SUAVs to overcome their energy limitations if flight control can be maintained in the increased turbulence present in these conditions. Here, the control effort required and energetic benefits for a SUAV flying parallel to buildings whilst using orographic lift was investigated. A flight dynamics and control model was developed for a powered SUAV and used to simulate flight control performance in different turbulent wind conditions. It was found that the control effort required decreased with increasing altitude and that the mean throttle required increased with greater radial distance to the buildings. However, the simulations showed that flying close to the buildings in strong wind speeds increased the risk of collision. Overall, the results suggested that a strategy of flying directly over the front corner of the buildings appears to minimise the control effort required for a given level of orographic lift, a strategy that mirrors the behaviour of gulls in high wind speeds.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-14
Number of pages14
JournalInternational Journal of Micro Air Vehicles
Publication statusPublished - 6 Aug 2020


  • orographic lift
  • fixed-wing
  • flight control
  • simulation
  • SUAV


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