UK researchers win prize for AI-modified flight controller

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Researchers from Lincoln University’s School of Engineering have won an industry prize for their work examining the application of artificial-intelligence (AI) techniques to the flight-control system of the Lockheed Martin F16 Fighting Falcon aircraft.

Prof Paul Stewart and Dr Jill Stewart from the School of Engineering, in collaboration with Dr Dan Gladwin from the University of Sheffield, have been awarded the Charles Sharpe Beecher Prize by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) for their efforts in developing a modified controller for the F-16, a single-engined, supersonic, multi-role tactical aircraft.

The F-16 was designed to be a combat ’workhorse’ that could perform various kinds of missions and maintain around-the-clock readiness. It is much smaller and lighter than its predecessors, but uses advanced aerodynamics and avionics, including the first use of a relaxed static stability/fly-by-wire (RSS/FBW) flight-control system, to achieve enhanced manoeuvre performance.

The modified fuzzy-logic controller developed by the team — whose membership functions are tuned by genetic algorithms in order to control roll, pitch and yaw — aims to enhance the performance of the existing flight controller to reduce pilot fatigue during extended combat flight manoeuvres.

Colin Brown, director of engineering at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, said: ’Long term, this project could help make a huge difference to pilots — improving the performance of supersonic jets and reducing the physical strain of flying for long periods of time.’

The prize was awarded at the Annual General Meeting and Awards Ceremony at the institution’s London headquarters on 17 May.