Autonomous Flight Control of UAVs

Unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) are a hot topic. With recent miniaturization of electronics, advances in materials, and improvement in electrical power, unmanned systems are becoming increasingly common. This course provides an end-to-end overview of the process of developing flight control for unmanned aircraft, using both the rigorous engineering approach for traditional flight controls as well as analytical approaches for the autonomous guidance functions required for an unmanned system.

The course begins with an overview of the fundamentals of flight dynamics, modeling aircraft motion, and relevant modes, followed by an overview of classical linear control theory, along with its application for rate and attitude control of aircraft. Modern control design methods and nonlinear control methods also are introduced. Lastly, UAV guidance is presented in the form of path-tracking and autonomous flight path-generation methods. Design examples are provided throughout the course to illustrate key points and demonstrate the design techniques presented in the course.

By the end of this course, participants should have a grasp of the fundamental UAV flight controls, including flight dynamics, developing dynamical models, autopilot design and development, and guidance techniques for path planning and tracking.

Course Materials

Lecture notes are distributed on the first day of the course. These notes are for participants only and are not otherwise available for sale or unauthorized distribution.

Coordinator and Lecturer

Manu Sharma, PhD, Senior Manager, Satellite Development Center, Boeing, El Segundo, California. Dr. Sharma has over 10 years of industry and academic experience in guidance and control of aerospace vehicles ranging from unmanned aircraft, missiles, guided munitions, and satellites. He is a recognized expert in the field of nonlinear and adaptive control for aerospace applications. During the course of his career, he has worked with both small and large businesses, and has contributed to several firsts for the development of nonlinear and adaptive flight control methods as well as with their implementation on technology demonstration programs. This includes successful flight demonstration of adaptive autopilots on the X-36 technology demonstrator aircraft and Boeing’s Joint Direct Attack Munition.

Dr. Sharma currently leads the attitude control subsystem engineering group at Boeing that is responsible for the satellite bus avionics, and hardware and software integration. He is also the technology planning focal for the flight and control engineering directorate. Dr. Sharma has nearly 30 published journal and conference papers with AIAA and IEEE, and has taught several courses on flight dynamics and controls for UAVs.


Rolf Rysdyk, PhD, Director of Research and Development, Insitu Engineering, Hood River, Oregon. Dr. Rysdyk’s expertise includes the use of advanced control techniques for flight handling qualities of aircraft and rotorcraft. In addition to his academic work in flight dynamics, guidance, navigation, and control, he has flight experience as a commercial pilot. His experience with guidance and navigation includes approach and departure procedure technology as well as the guidance and navigation algorithms for small UAVs.

At Insitu, Dr. Rysdyk directed propulsion development for its new project, the Integrator UAV. He was part of the proposal response team for Insitu’s successful bid for the Small Tactical Unmanned Air System (STUAS) Tier II program. He has led a variety of development projects that range from structural analysis, simulation modeling, vibration analysis, mobile ground control station prototyping, and heavy fuel propulsion. He also directs the guidance, navigation, and control integration working group for the Integrator development, and coordinates Insitu’s R&D with University research activities.

Dr. Rysdyk has taught courses in stability and control theory, flight dynamics, and optimal control and estimation techniques at the University of Washington before joining Insitu in 2007, prior to its acquisition by Boeing.

Daily Schedule

Day 1 & 2

Introduction to Unmanned Systems
Examples of UAVs, overview of subsystems, and typical flight-control design flow

Review of Key Concepts
Reference frames and transformations; aircraft equations of motion, trim, and equilibrium; force and moment coefficients; linearized dynamics; longitudinal/lateral-directional modes

Classical Control Design for Attitude and Rate Loops
Overview of key linear-control concepts; linear design tools and methods; longitudinal rate, attitude, and angle-of-attack loops; lateral-directional rate, attitude, and sideslip loops; altitude and airspeed regulation; turn coordination; heading and track angle control, and control allocation

Modern Flight Control Design Techniques
Overview of linear quadratic control for rate and attitude regulation, feedback linearization, discussion on usage of modern techniques to replace classical methods

UAV Guidance
Overview of guidance techniques, kinematic models for guidance, way-point guidance, path following for straight-line and orbits

Path Generation Methods

For more information contact the Short Course Program Office:
shortcourses@uclaextension.edu | (310) 825-3344 | fax (310) 206-2815