If I wanted to design an aircraft for autonomous operation and maximum endurance, what design philosophies provide the greatest benefit? I'm imagining a powered glider. Does not have to be highly maneuverable.

I'm interested in relative proportions, wingspan, length, center of gravity, center of pressure, wing placement, dihedral/anhedral, engine placement, fuel type, etc.

  • Is there a "sweet spot" for center of gravity relative to center of lift so as to maximize stability?
  • Since it will be mostly autonomous (computer-controlled), can I design for less inherent stability?
  • What engines/fuel types are the most efficient?
  • $\begingroup$ What kind of an aircraft are you thinking of? In what ways might it be similar to and different from a Reaper, say? $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2015 at 5:36
  • $\begingroup$ the reaper is a good starting point, at least in terms of using it as an example for why the design looks like it does. i was thinking something more in the tactical realm, perhaps no bigger than 15-20' wingspan, or something hobbyists could put together on the weekend. $\endgroup$
    – Erich
    Feb 10, 2015 at 5:56
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ A balloon :-). ${}$ $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    Feb 10, 2015 at 6:20
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly is a powered glider? Do you mean a motor glider that has an engine for take-off only? $\endgroup$ Feb 10, 2015 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ @RedGrittyBrick there are a number of different kinds of motor gliders: self-launching (instead of a tow or winch), sustaining (in case you fail to find lift), and touring (can operate like an airplane). $\endgroup$
    – rbp
    Feb 10, 2015 at 12:59

1 Answer 1


Natural stability would be highest on the list for me. Look at free flying model airplanes for inspiration. They have their own characteristics:

  • Very low wing loading for minimum sink speed
  • High natural stability, and consequently a very narrow speed range
  • High aspect ratio wing, thin airfoil with high camber
  • Extremely short fuselage ahead of the wing (no payload to carry)
  • Extreme fuselage length aft of the wing which provides ample aerodynamic damping
  • Strong dihedral of the outer wing.

This in combination means that your control software can be very simple. Relaxed stability will require many sensors and built-in redundancy, and the more parts you need to add, the more possibilities of failures you will end up with. In contrast to that, the laws of physics never fail, use them to your advantage. See below for an example which I copied from the Wikipedia page on free flight models:

enter image description here

For airfols, c.g. location and all other details I recommend to look at several free plans until you see a common pattern.

Regarding the type of fuel: Depends how noisy and messy you tolerate the engine to be; some people will only fly electric while others are happy with two-stroke engines.


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