Date of Award


Access Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Mechanical Engineering


Mechanical Engineering

Committee Chair

Dr. Charles Reinholtz, Ph.D

First Committee Member

Dr. Sergey Drakunov, Ph.D

Second Committee Member

Dr. Vladimir Golubev, Ph.D

Third Committee Member

Dr. Patrick Currier, Ph.D

Fourth Committee Member

Dr. Eric Coyle, Ph.D


This dissertation presents two new approaches to energy harvesting for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). One method is based on the Potential Flow Method (PFM); the other method seeds a wind-field map based on updraft peak analysis and then applies a variant of the Bellman-Ford algorithm to find the minimum-cost path. Both methods are enhanced by taking into account the performance characteristics of the aircraft using advanced performance theory. The combined approach yields five possible trajectories from which the one with the minimum energy cost is selected. The dissertation concludes by using the developed theory and modeling tools to simulate the flight paths of two small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV) in the 500 kg and 250 kg class. The results show that, in mountainous regions, substantial energy can be recovered, depending on topography and wind characteristics. For the examples presented, as much as 50% of the energy was recovered for a complex, multi-heading, multi-altitude, 170 km mission in an average wind speed of 9 m/s. The algorithms constitute a Generic Intelligent Control Algorithm (GICA) for autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles that enables an extraction of atmospheric energy while completing a mission trajectory. At the same time, the algorithm automatically adjusts the flight path in order to avoid obstacles, in a fashion not unlike what one would expect from living organisms, such as birds and insects. This multi-disciplinary approach renders the approach biomimetic, i.e. it constitutes a synthetic system that “mimics the formation and function of biological mechanisms and processes.”