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Development Of A Digital Flight Data Recorder/Controller System For A Radio Controlled Helicopter

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1998 Annual Conference


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 28, 1998

Start Date

June 28, 1998

End Date

July 1, 1998



Page Count


Page Numbers

3.201.1 - 3.201.8

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Paper Authors

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Timothy M. Weise

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Daniel J. Biezad

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2202

Development of a Digital Flight Data Recorder/Controller System for a Radio-Controlled Helicopter

Mr. Timothy M. Weise, Dr. Daniel J. Biezad California Polytechnic State University


A digital flight data recorder/controller system for a radio-controlled helicopter has been built to demonstrate the basic requirements necessary to build a flight control system. The sys- tem utilizes the standard radio control system augmented with an extra micro controller and other circuitry to utilize rate gyro feedback in the control loop. The system is able to record flight data, perform programmed flight maneuvers such as frequency sweeps, and record flight data. The data that has been recorded can be now be used to develop a closed loop control system.


A radio controlled (RC) helicopter is one of the most difficult hobbies to master. It is a very complicated machine with many control actuators. It has a complicated model of motion. The control inputs are coupled with one another. How could one be made easier to fly? Add a stability augmentation flight control system! This would require some electronics able to use the radio to servo control signal to sense the pilot input and the rate gyro feedback signal to generate a control signal that will control the helicopter in such a way that the motion of the helicopter will match the pilot’s input. Since the motion of a helicopter is very difficult to analyze, the sys- tem would be designed so that it could record flight data, which is used to identify the system. Since the electronics recording the flight data would be in the loop of control (without altering the control signal, just passing it through), the dynamics of the controller would be included in the identification, which would lessen the chances of a system adding an adverse effect to the plant. Once the data is gathered, it can be analyzed to identify the plant, and a control law can be put into the control system to stabilize the helicopter.

With a system like this built, it can be used in many ways to enhance the learning process at Cal Poly: Some of the uses include demonstrating the effects of changing the control gains, performing lab exercises to design a control system with the given architecture, or adding even more functionality. Since it was designed for expandability, adding more functionality or even hardware would be a relatively simple process. More sensors, such as accelerometers, level indi- cators, or possibly a GPS receiver (weight permitting) could be connected to the hardware. Also, the firmware could be modified to add functionality, change the control laws, or a variety of other applications.

Weise, T. M., & Biezad, D. J. (1998, June), Development Of A Digital Flight Data Recorder/Controller System For A Radio Controlled Helicopter Paper presented at 1998 Annual Conference, Seattle, Washington.

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