UAV research

Autonomous Flight and Uninhabited Air Vehicles

In addition to military uses, unmanned aircraft (commonly known as drones) are seeing significant scientific and civil applications. Our research focuses on path planning, control, state estimation, and data fusion, applied especially to navigation, obstacle avoidance, and long-range flight of small uninhabited aircraft.

There are two main thrusts to this research: first, improving perception of the vehicle’s surroundings (i.e., turning sensor data into actionable intelligence); second, improving the vehicle’s persistence (i.e., the length of time it can remain on station and the distance that it can cover in flight).

In many cases, our research is bio-inspired. We are developing algorithms for autonomous flight that allow small UAVs to soar, harvesting energy from the atmosphere. Ultimately, we seek to develop a soaring-capable, autonomous, mini-UAV that is equipped with a sophisticated sensing system that will be able to follow a migrating bird and provide close-up in-flight video, as well as in situ atmospheric measurements.

Key Faculty:

Research Focus Areas

Our research has a strong focus on hardware implementation. Testbeds include multi-rotors, a helicopter, and fixed-wing aircraft. Specific research topics include:

  • Vision-based obstacle avoidance and navigation
  • Trajectory generation and trajectory following control
  • Flight planning in complex wind fields
  • Vision-based landing systems
  • Atmospheric sensing
  • Mapping algorithms


The Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering, established in 1961 and the only aerospace engineering department in Pennsylvania, is consistently recognized as one of the top aerospace engineering departments in the nation, and is also an international leader in aerospace education, research, and engagement. Our undergraduate program is ranked 15th and our graduate programs are ranked 15th nationally by U.S. News & World Report, while one in 25 holders of a B.S. degree in aerospace engineering in the U.S. earned it from Penn State. Our students are consistently among the most highly recruited by industry, government, and graduate schools nationwide.

The department is built upon the fundamentals of academic integrity, innovation in research, and commitment to the advancement of industry. Through an innovative curriculum and world-class instruction that reflects current industry practice and embraces future trends, Penn State Aerospace Engineering graduates emerge as broadly educated, technically sound aerospace engineers who will become future leaders in a critical industry

Department of Aerospace Engineering

229 Hammond Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802

Phone: 814-865-2569