Tom is a senior lecturer in flight mechanics and control in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Bristol. His research is focused on the control of Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs) and the ASTRAEA 2 programme has been an ideal opportunity for the University to become involved in the development of key UAV capabilities.
As a participant in programmes like GARTEUR FM (AG11), SEAS (Systems Engineering for Autonomous Systems) DTC and the EU Framework 6 SimSAC project, Tom followed the progress of ASTRAEA 1 with interest and was delighted when consortium partner Cobham invited Bristol to join the ASTRAEA 2 programme. The Bristol effort began in early 2010 with Tom leading a team of two PhD students and two Research Assistants, all working on complementary aspects of the Autonomous Air to Air Refuelling (AAAR) problem space – this is the small but critical airspace where the tanker’s trailing drogue and the UAV’s fuel probe must make precise contact and lock together so refueling can begin.
"This is an extremely exciting project," Tom said, "because it allows us to carry out research at several different conceptual levels, from applied work through to blue skies ideas.”
The work at Bristol is centred on the development of a Relative Motion Robotics Rig used for hardware-in-the-loop testing in parallel with control system development. Tom described it as one of the most advanced facilities of its type in the world and unique in the way it’s used for developing AAAR architecture, hardware and control system design. In fact, this facility is proving to be an extremely cost effective way of studying the AAAR problem as well as having a wide range of applications in other research areas.
The AAAR collaboration between Bristol and Cobham (the industry leader in Air-to-Air Refuelling) is an excellent example of how academia and industry can work together on leading-edge technology. Tom said he’s excited about the ongoing project and looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead.
"This is a capability that will prove vital to UAS operations in the coming years,” he explained, “and our research group at Bristol is delighted to be part of the team that is helping to develop it.”
As to the future for UAVs after ASTRAEA 2, Tom predicted the exponential growth currently seen in the use of UAVs will continue, with a wide diversity of both civil and military applications. The Programme’s legacy is the vital research being carried out today because it will form the backbone of the civil UAV infrastructure of the future and facilitate the further development of advanced UAV systems by industry.
About Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol
One of the largest departments within the Faculty of Engineering, Aerospace Engineering has been established for over 50 years and is regarded as a leading provider of aerospace research and teaching in the UK. Its strong industrial links with some of the UK’s largest aerospace corporations benefit both students and researchers alike.