Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Brett Newman

Committee Member

Thomas E. Alberts

Committee Member

Jen-Kuang Huang

Committee Member

Duc Nguyen


The subject of nonlinear flight control design using backstepping control methodology is investigated in the dissertation research presented here. Control design methods based on nonlinear models of the dynamic system provide higher utility and versatility because the design model more closely matches the physical system behavior. Obtaining requisite model fidelity is only half of the overall design process, however. Design of the nonlinear control loops can lessen the effects of nonlinearity, or even exploit nonlinearity, to achieve higher levels of closed-loop stability, performance, and robustness. The goal of the research is to improve control quality for a general class of strict-feedback dynamic systems and provide flight control architectures to augment the aircraft motion. The research is divided into two parts: theoretical control development for the strict-feedback form of nonlinear dynamic systems and application of the proposed theory for nonlinear flight dynamics. In the first part, the research is built on two components: transforming the nonlinear dynamic model to a canonical strict-feedback form and then applying backstepping control theory to the canonical model. The research considers a process to determine when this transformation is possible, and when it is possible, a systematic process to transfer the model is also considered when practical. When this is not the case, certain modeling assumptions are explored to facilitate the transformation. After achieving the canonical form, a systematic design procedure for formulating a backstepping control law is explored in the research. Starting with the simplest subsystem and ending with the full system, pseudo control concepts based on Lyapunov control functions are used to control each successive subsystem. Typically each pseudo control must be solved from a nonlinear algebraic equation. At the end of this process, the physical control input must be re-expressed in terms of the physical states by eliminating the pseudo control transformations. In the second part, the research focuses on nonlinear control design for flight dynamics of aircraft motion. Some assumptions on aerodynamics of the aircraft are addressed to transform full nonlinear flight dynamics into the canonical strict-feedback form. The assumptions are also analyzed, validated, and compared to show the advantages and disadvantages of the design models. With the achieved models, investigation focuses on formulating the backstepping control laws and provides an advanced control algorithm for nonlinear flight dynamics of the aircraft. Experimental and simulation studies are successfully implemented to validate the proposed control method. Advancement of nonlinear backstepping control theory and its application to nonlinear flight control are achieved in the dissertation research.