Simulators can be powerful tools for developing and testing UAS flight control systems as well as prototyping new ideas. Here is an interactive FlightGear based demonstration showing:
- Auto-launch from a carrier.
- Circle holds.
- Route following.
- Gyro stabilized camera.
- Simulated search and rescue mission
- Auto-approach and landing on a carrier (factoring in winds and even carrier motion.)
To get started, go to the following link and read through the installation and operating instructions: http://www.flightgear.org/uas-demo/
The flight computer flies everything from start to finish. Your job as UAS operator is to give mission commands and operate the gyro camera (and enjoy some of the other views as well.)
This demonstration can be flown with the FlightGear multiplayer system enabled so you might see other UAV's or aircraft in the airspace. I enjoy enabling live METAR weather and flying at different times of day and turning on moderate turbulence to give the flight control system an extra workout. In low visibility the search and rescue portion of the mission can be very difficult if not impossible. Sometimes you get lucky, some times you don't.
Just to take a step back here. The point of this demonstration is to show:
- The power and realism available in flight simulators.
- The ability to script complex flight control logic using FlightGear's built in scripting system.
- This entire demo is created with a stock version of FlightGear. You don't need external hardware, you don't have to fiddle with complicated communication protocols, you can do everything inside of FlightGear first -- on a single PC.
- Auto-landing tasks can be very complicated if you wish to factor in wind and fly a stable and optimal approach. Adding multiple entities in a multiplayer simulation can expose the need to design an approach that ensures traffic separation. Flying the logic over and over in simulation under a variety of conditions helps you spot situations you might not have otherwise accounted for and improve and refine the code in ways that would be much more difficult to do in real life.
- All of the flight control in this demonstration is done without "cheating". By this I mean all the sensor inputs to the flight controller are the same sorts of inputs a small embedded autopilot could have. The autopilot only manipulates the control actuators. After that we let the flight dynamics do whatever they are going to do. We sense, we actuate, just like in real life.
I'm calling this demo a "BETA" so I'm interested in feedback ... especially feedback on the instructions at the webpage link.
Be very careful though; you might end up having fun and wasting a lot of time with this. I know I have! :-)