UAS Flight Testing in Support of Research for Academia: Lessons and Experiences from the Field

SCITECH 2023 Paper


Uninhabited Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and miniaturized high-performance computing have enabled flight testing to become incredibly accessible, changing the status quo from an expensive, high-knowledge-barrier endeavour to a relatively low-cost exercise that is within the reach of small-scale research institutions and individuals. Due to this ease of entry, flight testing with UAVs is becoming increasingly commonplace as the technology allows cutting-edge research to leave the realm of simulation and enter real-world trials in very short time frames without the restrictions and costs of piloted, full-scale flight. Where traditional flight test engineers required many years of specialized training, budding UAV flight test engineers often start with little-to-no prior personal or in-house experience, and go through the same trail-and-error processes as those before them. This paper aims to document many years of experience flight testing at a university level, both to provide a basic understanding of the process for anyone getting started, and to share ideas with more experienced operators. It covers aspects such as instrumentation, flight controllers, airframes, bridging the sim-to-real gap and methodologies for conducting safe and efficient flight test campaigns.