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As we work to refine the racing line, it’s important to concentrate on only the few changes that will have the greatest impact. Optimal control tools help me understand the impact of those changes, and so choose the issues to work on for race day. Finally, it’s one thing to sit at a desk and calculate optimal trajectories, but it’s another thing altogether to fly aerobatic maneuvers close to the ground along a prescribed racing line. It’s a sport that requires tremendous skill and athleticism. Helping Michael perform at his best requires more than just telling him the optimal line — it requires understanding how he flies the plane, and helping him achieve his peak performance on race day.

BENEFITS AT MIT The air race experience has offered tangible benefits for my work back at MIT. In terms of teaching, the air race optimization problem is one that I share with my students in the graduate optimal control theory subject, 16.323. The technical challenges of the air race optimal control problem have given me insights into optimal control algorithms that I can apply to my research. Participating as a member of a Red Bull Air Race team has been a terrific adventure, taking me all over the world, and allowing me to apply optimal control theory in new and exciting ways. STEVEN R. HALL is a Professor of Aeronautics and Aeronautics at MIT. His research interests are in control theory and applications of control theory to aerospace systems. He can be reached at

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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