Full envelope nonlinear flight controller design for a novel electric VTOL (eVTOL) air taxi

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Suiçmez E., Kutay A. T.

AERONAUTICAL JOURNAL, vol.1, pp.1-28, 2023 (SCI-Expanded) identifier identifier

  • Publication Type: Article / Article
  • Volume: 1
  • Publication Date: 2023
  • Doi Number: 10.1017/aer.2023.87
  • Journal Indexes: Science Citation Index Expanded (SCI-EXPANDED), Scopus, Applied Science & Technology Source, Compendex, Computer & Applied Sciences, INSPEC
  • Page Numbers: pp.1-28
  • Middle East Technical University Affiliated: Yes


On-demand urban air transportation gains popularity in recent years with the introduction of the electric VTOL (eVTOL) aircraft concept. There is an emerging interest in short/medium range eVTOL air taxi considering the critical advantages of electric propulsion (i.e. low noise and carbon emission). Using several electric propulsion systems (distributed electric propulsion (DEP)) has further advantages such as improved redundancy. However, flight controller design becomes more challenging due to highly over-actuated and coupled dynamics. This study defines and resolves flight control problems of a novel DEP eVTOL air taxi. The aircraft has a fixed-wing surface to have aerodynamically efficient cruise flight, and uses only tilting electric propulsion units to achieve full envelope flight control via pure thrust vector control. The aircraft does not have conventional control surfaces such as aileron, rudder or elevator. Using pure thrust vector control has some design benefits, but the control problem becomes more challenging due to the over-actuated and highly coupled dynamics (especially in transition flight). A preliminary flight dynamics model is obtained considering the dominant effects at hover and high-speed forward flight. Hover and forward flight models are blended to simulate the transition dynamics. Two central challenges regarding the flight control are significant nonlinearities in aircraft dynamics during the transition and proper allocation of the thrust vector control specifically in limited control authority (actuator saturation). The former challenge is resolved via designing a sensor-based incremental nonlinear dynamic inversion (INDI) controller to have a single/unified controller covering the wide flight envelope. For the latter one, an optimisation-based control allocation (CA) approach is integrated into the INDI controller. CA requires special attention due to the pure thrust vector control’s highly coupled dynamics. The controller shows satisfactory performance and disturbance rejection characteristics. Moreover, the CA plays a vital role in guaranteeing stable flight in case of severe actuator saturation.