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Interactive Robotics Laboratory
Yu Gu, Professor
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Cooperative Gust Sensing and Suppression for Aircraft Formation Flight

Sponsor: NASA Aeronautics Research Institute, Leading Edge Aeronautics Research for NASA (LEARN).

(In collaboration with WVU FCSL)

Aircraft formation flight has great potential for future commercial applications because of its benefits in reducing drag and increasing throughputs. For example, a fuel saving up to of 14% for the trailing aircraft was demonstrated in 2001 by the NASA Autonomous Formation Flight (AFF) program. The reduced fuel consumption along with the associated lower environmental impact can help the development of a sustainable air transportation industry. Additionally, formation flight could also allow air traffic control systems to handle increased traffic in the next generation airspace. One of the critical technical issues to be addressed before commercial aircraft can routinely fly in formation is the turbulence suppression problem. In fact, since the trailing aircraft is always flying in the wingtip vortex of a leading aircraft, active suppression of turbulences is important for flight safety and passenger comfort. From a different perspective, the extended spatial sensing range with a group of aircraft also creates new opportunities for the cooperative sensing and suppression of ambient atmospheric gusts and turbulences, which has been a leading cause of in-flight injuries. The objective of this project is to develop a cooperative strategy for gust sensing and suppression within a formation flight setting. Specifically, each trailing aircraft will analyze real-time flight data collected from leading aircraft to estimate the effects of ambient and wake turbulences on its airframe. An active gust suppression controller will then be implemented with the goal of minimizing the on-board disturbances.

Close formation flight with a 5 x wingspan distance was achieved Recently! Autonomous Close Formation Flight Experiment video and Autonomous Close Formation Flight Experiment #2 video. Vortex Visualization experiments were also performed with a RC trainer. See Wake Vortex Visualization with a RC Trainer and Smoke Bombs 2 video!

Two planes follow each other through the clouds and in front of the moon.

Smoke curling off the rear of a plane


  1. Tian, P. , Chao, H., Gu, Y. , and Hagerott, S., “UAV Flight Test Evaluation of Fusion Algorithms for Estimation of Angle of Attack and Sideslip Angle”, AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control Conference, to appear, 2016
  2. Rhudy, M., Fravolini, M.L., Gu, Y., Napolitano, M., Gururajan, S., and Chao H., “Aircraft Model Independent Airspeed Estimation without Pitot Tube Measurements,” IEEE Transactions on Aerospace and Electronic Systems, 2015
  3. Gross, J., Gu, Y., and Rhudy, M., “Robust UAV Relative Navigation with DGPS, INS, and Peer-to-Peer Radio Ranging,” IEEE Transactions on Automation Science and Engineering, 2015
  4. Chao, H., Gu, Y., Tian, P., Zheng, C., and Napolitano, M., “Wake Vortex Detection with UAV Close Formation Flight”, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, 2015
  5. He, A. and Zheng, C., “Simulation of Wake Encounter for Aircraft Close Formation Operations”, AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, 2015
  6. Rice, C., Gu, Y., Chao, H., Larrabee, T., Gururajan, S., Napolitano, M., Mandal, T., Rhudy, M., "Control Performance Analysis for Autonomous Close Formation Flight Experiments," International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Orlando, FL, May, 2014
  7. Rhudy, M., Gu, Y., Chao, H., "Wind Field Velocity and Acceleration Estimation Using a Small UAV," AIAA Modeling and Simulation Technologies Conference, Atlanta, GA, Jun 2014.
  8. Larrabee, T., Chao, H., Rhudy, M., Gu, Y., and Napolitano, M., "Wind Field and Wake Estimation in UAV Formation Flight," American Control Conference, Portland, OR, Jun 2014.
  9. Rhudy, M., Gu, Y., and Napolitano, M., "UAV Attitude, Heading, and Wind Estimation Using GPS/INS and an Air Data System," AIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control Conference, Boston, MA, Aug 2013
  10. Larrabee, T., Chao, H., Mandal, T., Gururajan, S., Gu, Y., and Napolitano, M., "Design, Simulation, and Flight Test Validation of a UAV Ground Control Station for Aviation Safety Research and Pilot Modeling," AIAA Guidance Navigation and Control Conference, Boston, MA, Aug 2013.