This program from NASA Ames is an example of using control theory to optimize the flight path of a transport airplane.

For an aircraft operating over a fixed range, the operating costs are basically a sum of fuel cost and time cost. While minimum fuel and minimum time trajectories are relatively easy to calculate, the determination of a minimum cost trajectory can be a complex undertaking. This computer program was developed to optimize trajectories with respect to a cost function based on a weighted sum of fuel cost and time cost. As a research tool, the program can be used to study various characteristics of optimum trajectories and their comparison to standard trajectories. It might also be used to generate a model for the development of an airborne trajectory optimization system. The program could be incorporated into an airline flight planning system, with optimum flight plans determined at takeoff time for the prevailing flight conditions. The use of trajectory optimization might significantly reduce the cost for a given aircraft mission.

The algorithm incorporated in the program assumes that a trajectory consists of climb, cruise, and descent segments. The optimization of each segment is not done independently, as in classical procedures, but is performed in a manner which accounts for interaction between the segments. This is accomplished by the application of optimal control theory. The climb and descent profiles are generated by integrating a set of kinematic and dynamic equations, where the total energy of the aircraft is the independent variable. At each energy level of the climb and descent profiles, the air speed and power setting necessary for an optimal trajectory are determined. The variational Hamiltonian of the problem consists of the rate of change of cost with respect to total energy and a term dependent on the adjoint variable, which is identical to the optimum cruise cost at a specified altitude. This variable uniquely specifies the optimal cruise energy, cruise altitude, cruise Mach number, and, indirectly, the climb and descent profiles. If the optimum cruise cost is specified, an optimum trajectory can easily be generated; however, the range obtained for a particular optimum cruise cost is not known a priori. For short range flights, the program iteratively varies the optimum cruise cost until the computed range converges to the specified range. For long-range flights, iteration is unnecessary since the specified range can be divided into a cruise segment distance and full climb and descent distances.

The user must supply the program with engine fuel flow rate coefficients and an aircraft aerodynamic model. The program currently includes coefficients for the Pratt-Whitney JT8D-7 engine and an aerodynamic model for the Boeing 727. Input to the program consists of the flight range to be covered and the prevailing flight conditions including pressure, temperature, and wind profiles. Information output by the program includes: optimum cruise tables at selected weights, optimal cruise quantities as a function of cruise weight and cruise distance, climb and descent profiles, and a summary of the complete synthesized optimal trajectory.

This program was released by NASA through COSMIC as ARC-11282. The italicized text above is from the official NASA release.

- Go to the download page for the Optimum Trajectory Program.

REFERENCES

- Rutowski, E.: Energy Approach to the General Aircraft Performance Problem. Journal of the Aeronautical Sciences, March 1954, pp.187-195