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Applying optimal control theory to air racing by Steven R. Hall

During the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to apply knowledge of aerospace engineering and, in particular, optimal control theory, as a member of a Red Bull Air Race team.

The race series is sanctioned by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and usually comprises eight events per season run at locations throughout the world.

My involvement with the air race series began in August 2014 after I heard that race pilot Michael Goulian was looking for technical help to improve. I realized that I could use my knowledge of aerospace engineering, especially optimal control theory, to help him fly the airplane faster. After meeting with Michael, I became a member of the team. The air race teams are small, typically with only three to five team members, including the pilot. My team, Team 99, has four members: team leader and pilot Goulian, technician Warren Cilliers, team coordinator Pablo Branco, and me. I serve as the team tactician.

THE RACE Each race is run in heats, with a single plane at a time on the track. The race is flown over a course defined by a number of gates, typically covering about 5 km in a closed circuit, and takes about one minute to complete. The gates are defined by 25 m tall inflatable pylons, which are designed to safely tear if hit by an airplane. There are two types of gate. An air gate is a pair of pylons, set 13 m apart, that pilots must fly through in a level attitude. There are also single pylon gates, often set up in groups of three to form a chicane or slalom. Pilots must past by single pylon gates at the appropriate height, and not be descending or climbing, but need not have wings level.

Applying optimal control theory to air racing


MIT AeroAstro annual magazine 2015-2016Aeroastro 2015 16  

Annual magazine review of MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics Department research and educational initiatives.

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