Cindy Nshuti

Date of Award


Access Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Engineering


Graduate Studies

Committee Chair

Dr. Hever Moncayo

First Committee Member

Dr. William Engblom

Second Committee Member

Dr. Claudia Moreno


Dual-aircraft platform (DAP) is a novel concept that features two glider-like unmanned aerial systems (UAS) tethered via a thin adjustable cable allowing them to sail back-and-forth, without propulsion, using vertical wind shear. DAP offers the potential of a low-cost atmospheric satellite. This thesis presents the results of an initiative to demonstrate this novel flight concept through modeling, simulation, and flight testing at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU). A realistic simulation environment, described herein, was developed to support the development and testing of flight control systems. This environment includes nonlinear aerodynamic models for the aircraft, a multi-element cable dynamics model, propeller-motor thrust model, control surface actuator models, and permits time-varying wind profiles. This simulator offers both pilot-in-the-loop control and autonomous sailing flight control, and X-Plane interface to provide visualization cues. An intensive flight test program, described herein, was conducted to support the validation of the DAP concept. MAXA Pro 4m gliders were assembled, instrumented, and flight tested in an effort to physically demonstrate the sailing mode of flight. The flight test program described here focuses on the capability to sail with one aircraft (i.e., fly without propulsion) while "towing" (i.e., pulling) a moving truck as an intermediate step towards the more complex scenario of sailing with two connected aircraft. Two vital elements of the flight software are implemented and analyzed herein. The accuracy of wind estimation techniques is evaluated using flight testing. The robustness of an L1 adaptive controller is evaluated within the flight simulation environment by comparing its performance with a conventional controller.