Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Eliot Winer


Military engagements are continuing the movement toward automated and unmanned vehicles for a variety of simple and complex tasks. This allows humans to stay away from dangerous situations and use their skills for more difficult tasks. One important piece of this strategy is the use of automated path planners for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Current UAV operation requires multiple individuals to control a single plane, tying up important human resources. Often paths are planned by creating waypoints for a vehicle to fly through, with the intention of doing reconnaissance while avoiding as much danger to the plane as possible. Path planners often plan routes without taking into consideration the UAV's ability to perform the maneuvers required to fly the specified waypoints, instead relying upon them to fly as close as possible.

This thesis presents a path planner solution incorporating vehicle mechanics to insure feasible flight paths. This path planner uses Particle Swarm Optimization (PSO) and digital pheromones to generate multiple three-dimensional flight paths for the operator to choose from. B-spline curves are generated using universal interpolation with each path waypoint representing a control point. The b-spline curve represents the flight path of the UAV. Each point along the curve is evaluated for fuel efficiency, threat avoidance, reconnaissance, terrain avoidance, and vehicle mechanics.

Optimization of the flight path occurs based on operator defined performance characteristics, such as maximum threat avoidance or minimum vehicle dynamics cost. These performance characteristics can be defined for each unique aircraft, allowing the same formulation to be used for any aircraft. The vehicle mechanics conditions considered are pull-out, glide, climb, and steady, level, co-ordinate turns. Calculating the flight mechanics requires knowing the velocity and angle of the plane, calculated using the derivative of the point on the curve. The flight mechanics of the path allows the path planner to determine whether the path exceeds the maximum load factor (G-force), minimum velocity (stall velocity), or the minimum turning radius. Comparing the results between PSO Path Planner with flight mechanics and PSO Path Planner without flight mechanics over five scenarios indicates an increase in the feasibility of the returned paths.

Visualizing the flight paths was improved by changing the original waypoint based visualization to a b-spline curve representation. Using b-spline curves allows for an accurate representation of the actual UAV flight path especially when considering turns. Operators no longer must create a mental representation of the flight path to match the waypoints.

Copyright Owner

Joseph Scott Holub



Date Available


File Format


File Size

111 pages