Reduced-order aeroelastic modeling of a torsionally compliant UAV rotor blade
Marks, Montana William
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Small-scale quadrotor helicopters, or quadcopters, have increased in popularity significantly in the past decade. These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) have a wide range of applications - from aerial photography and cinematography to agriculture. Increasing flight time and payload capacity are of the utmost importance when designing these systems, and reducing vehicle weight is the simplest method for improving these performance metrics. However, lighter components and structures are often more flexible and may deform during operation. This is especially the case for flexible UAV blade rotor behavior during flight. Modeling rotor blade deformations is non-trivial due to the coupling between the structure and the surrounding flow, which is called Fluid-Structure Interaction (FSI). Several methods exist for FSI modeling where the most common involves integrating Finite Element and Computational Fluid Dynamics solvers. However, these higher-fidelity models are computationally expensive and are not ideal for parametric studies that consider variable rotor geometry, material properties or other physical characteristics. This research develops low-order modeling techniques that can be leveraged by UAV rotor designers. Here, a reduced-order FSI model of a small-scale UAV rotor blade is developed using Lagrangian mechanics paired with a blade element model. The rotor blade is discretized into rectangular elements along the span. Each blade element is constrained to uni-axial rotation about the span-wise axis and is treated as a torsional stiffness element. The quasi-static equilibrium state of the structure due to aerodynamic forces at user-defined operational conditions is then determined. The model presented is capable of producing a converged solution in as little as 0.016 seconds, as opposed to higher-order FSI models, which can take up to several orders of magnitude longer to solve. It is determined that the deflection of a flexible blade can reduce the total aerodynamic lift from 18-25% when compared to a rigid blade with the same initial geometry. It is shown that the model allows a user to tailor the initial pre-twist of the flexible rotor blade such that losses in lift are reduced to 0.68-5.7%.