Date of Award

Spring 2017

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering

Committee Director

Drew Landman

Committee Member

Colin P. Britcher

Committee Member

Thomas A. Alberts


Distributed electric propulsion systems benefit from the inherent scale independence of electric propulsion. This property allows the designer to place multiple small electric motors along the wing of an aircraft instead of using a single or several internal combustion motors with gear boxes or other power train components. Aircraft operating at low Reynolds numbers are ideal candidates for benefiting from increased local flow velocities as provided by distributed propulsion systems.

In this study, a distributed electric propulsion system made up of eight motor/propellers was integrated into the leading edge of a small fixed wing-body model to investigate the expected improvements on the aerodynamics available to small UAVs operating at low Reynolds numbers. Wind tunnel tests featuring a Design of Experiments (DOE) methodology were used for aerodynamic characterization. Experiments were performed in four modes: all-propellers-on, wing-tip-propellers-alone-on, wing-alone mode, and two-inboard-propellers-on-alone mode. In addition, the all-propeller-on, wing-alone, and a single-tractor configuration were analyzed using VSPAERO, a vortex lattice code, to make comparisons between these different configurations. Results show that the distributed propulsion system has higher normal force, endurance, and range features, despite a potential weight penalty.