Researchers control unmanned jet flying faster than sound

April 30th, 2009 - 2:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 30 (IANS) When a jet is flying at supersonic speeds, a trifling mistake can shred it into pieces. But when it is an experimental one that must fly unmanned, only a computer control system can pilot it.
Ohio State University (OSU) engineers have designed a control system software that can do just that, by adapting to changing conditions during a flight.

Official agencies have been developing supersonic vehicles for decades. The latest supersonic ramjets (a type of jet engine) called scramjets, burn air for fuel, and could one day carry people to space or around the world in a matter of hours.

Fiorentini and Andrea Serrani, associate professor, are developing a new control system in collaboration with US Air Force Research Lab (ARFL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

They reported that their jet controller performed flawlessly in computer simulations of flight manoeuvres. The controller both guides the jet along its trajectory (path) and keeps it stable during a flight, Fiorentini explained.

Sensors measure factors such as altitude, velocity, and acceleration, and the controller calculates whether any adjustments need to be made to keep the jet stable and on course.

“Because these vehicles are unmanned right now, we have to prepare everything ahead of time, anticipate every possible in-flight event,” she said, according to an OSU release.

“And the controller has to work really fast. At 10 times the speed of sound, if you lose just one second, the jet has gone far, far off course.”

The study was published in the current issue of the Journal of Guidance, Control, and Dynamics.

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