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Chapter 1

An Overview of Missile Autopilots

1.1 Introduction

An autopilot [1] is a closed loop system and it is a minor loop inside the main guidance loop; not all missile systems require an autopilot.


Broadly speaking autopilots either control the motion in the pitch and yaw planes, in which they are called lateral autopilots, or they control the motion about the fore and aft axis in which case they are called roll autopilots.


In aircraft autopilots, those designed to control the motion in the pitch plane are called longitudinal autopilots and only those to control the motion in yaw are called lateral autopilots.


For a symmetrical cruciform missile however pitch and yaw autopilots are often identical; one injects a g bias in the vertical plane to offset the effect of gravity but this does not affect the design of the autopilot.

1.2 Roll Position Autopilot

A simple block diagram of roll position autopilot is as shown in Fig.5.1.


Figure 1.1: General Block Diagram of Roll Position Autopilot[1] (a) The roll position demand (

Figure 1.1: General Block Diagram of Roll Position Autopilot[1]


The roll position demand (φ d ), in the case of Twist and Steer control, is compared with the actual roll position (φ), sensed by the roll gyro.


The error is amplified and fed to the servos, which in turn move the ailerons.


The movement of the ailerons, results in the change in the roll orientation of the missile airframe.


The changes in the airframe orientation due to external disturbances, biases etc are also shown in the achieved roll position.


The controlling action (feed back) continues till the demanded roll orientation is achieved.

1.3 Notations and Conventions

The reference axis system [1] standardized in the guided weapons industry is centered at the center of gravity (c.g) and fixed in the body as follows:

(a) X axis : called the roll axis, forwards, along the axis of symmetry if one exists, but in any case in the plane of symmetry.


Various quantities

Roll axis

Pitch axis

Yaw axis

X axis

Y axis

Z axis

Angular rates




Components of missile velocity along each axis




Components of force acting on missile along each axis




Moments acting on missile about each axis




Moments of inertia about each axis




Products of inertia




Table 1.1: Notations



axis : called the pitch axis, outwards and to the right if viewing the missile

from behind.


Z axis : called the yaw axis, downwards in the plane of symmetry to form a right handed orthogonal system with the other two.

The forces and moments acting on the missile, the linear and angular velocities, and the moments of inertia are given in Table 5.1. It is to be noted that the missile velocity along the X -axis is denoted by a capital letter ‘U to emphasize that it is a large pos- itive quantity changing at most only a few percent per second. The angular rates and components of velocity along the pitch and yaw axes however, tend to be much smaller quantities which can be positive or negative and can have much larger rates of change.

1.4 Airframe Equations of Motion

The missile airframe response to control surface deflections can be derived from Euler’s equations of motion as shown in [1]. There are six equations of motion for a body with six degrees of freedom.Three are force equations and remaining three, moment equations


and have been standardised for design calculations as follows:



m( U + qw rv)




m(v˙ + rU pw)




m(w˙ qU + pv)




Ap˙ (B

C)qr + D(r 2 q 2 ) E(pq + r˙) + F (rp q˙)




Bq˙ (C

A)rp + E(p 2 r 2 ) F (qr + p˙) + D(pq r˙)




Cr˙ (A B)pq + F (q 2 p 2 ) D(rp + q˙) + E(qr p˙)




1.5 Control Surface Conventions

Control surface deflections ξ 1 , ξ 2 , ξ 3 , ξ 4 are defined positive if clockwise looking out-

wards along the individual hinge axis . The following quantities are defined:




Aileron deflection = ξ = ξ 1 + ξ 2 + ξ 3 + ξ 4


Elevator deflection = η = ξ 1 ξ 3


Rudder deflection = ζ = ξ 2 ξ 4


It can be easily verified that positive aileron deflection produces an anti-clockwise mo-

ment about X-axis. Positive elevator deflection produces a -ve force in the Z-direction

and an anti-clockwise moment about the Y -axis. Positive rudder deflection produces a

+ve force in the Y direction and a -ve moment about the Z-axis.

1.6 Roll Derivatives

Aerodynamic derivatives enable control engineers to obtain transfer functions defin-

ing the response of a missile to aileron, elevator or rudder inputs. These derivatives

are calculated from the total force from the wings, body and control surfaces on the

assumption that control surfaces are in the central position. Assuming that the missile


is symmetrical in both planes i.e. in XY and XZ planes and that the missile is roll sta-

bilized i.e., p 0,the airframe equations of motion given above can be further simplified

and used for analysis. As roll control is the intended application, let us consider a roll

equation given by Eq. 5.7,

Ap˙ = L = L ξ ξ + L p p


Where, L ξ is rolling moment as a function of aileron angle. Bearing in mind that in most

applications ξ is unlikely to exceed a few degrees, we regard L ξ as a constant. L p is the

damping derivative in roll and has dimensions of torque/unit roll rate. Since the torque

will always oppose the roll motion its algebraic sign is invariably -ve. This derivative is

often regarded as a constant for a given Mach number and operating height.

1.7 Roll Transfer Function

The roll transfer function (Roll rate/aileron deflection) p(s) ξ(s) is obtained by rewriting

the Eq. (5.7) as,

p˙ l p p = l ξ ξ

or in the transfer function form as,




l ξ


s l p

l ξ /l p

T a s +


Where l ξ



can be regarded as a steady state gain and T a =

aerodynamic time constant.


l p


can be regarded as

1.8 Roll Control

1.8.1 Necessity for Roll Control/Stabilization

A missile tends to roll, during its flight due to the following: -

(a) Airframe misalignments.



Asymmetrical loading of the lifting and control surfaces at supersonic speeds.


Atmospheric disturbances, if the missile is made to fly close to the sea or ground.


Air-launched missiles experience large torque disturbances due to the flowfield in the vicinity of the aircraft and in addition, those due to the aircraft maneuver during release of its missile [14].

Unlike the freely rolling missiles, there are many occasions where in there is a require- ment to roll stabilise (position or rate) the missile. They are: -


Excessive roll also results in cross coupling of guidance demands and improper im- plementation due to inherent lag of servos. This will result in inaccurate maneuvers since the system will operate in multimode multi-channel input. By keeping roll position constant, there will be no cross coupling or decoupling is possible. Thus exact maneuvers will be possible by decoupling.


The servo lag coupled with roll rate may result in loss of stability or result in instability.


In command guidance system, the control surfaces have to be fixed to their desig- nation of rudders and elevators for proper passage of commands. This is possible only if roll rate is zero. Otherwise we need resolvers to overcome this problem of change in roll position.


When a missile is guided by radar at a low angle over the ground or sea, verti- cally polarised guidance commands and vertically polarised aerials are used in the missiles to counter ground or sea reflections.


Sea skimming missiles using radio altimeter, which should remain pointed down- wards. If in case the missile rolls, the altimeter will measure slant range i.e., height will be wrongly deciphered as a greater value. In correcting this large value of apparent height the missile may go into the sea.

(f) Missiles using homing guidance have seekers which continuously track the target. So if now sudden roll occurs (even in nanoseconds) seeker orientation may change and target may be lost if in particular the control system of the homing system is sluggish. Excessive roll of the missile would result in damage of the homing head and also errors in target co-ordinate computation.



Missiles using polarised or unidirectional warheads.


Twist and Steer (polar control) requires strict roll position stabilisation.

1.8.2 Effect of Roll Rate

Only if the roll rates are not really high can the magnus and inertial cross coupling effects be neglected. The effect of high roll rates on aircraft and its effects on the roll stabilization for aerodynamic missiles is extensively discussed in [15][pp.192 206,230 233]. It is found that for anti-aircraft missiles the magnus terms will appreciably alter the airframe response only for roll rates above 200 rad/sec. Similarly, for certain free rolling missiles roll rates in excess of 20 rad/sec is regarded as abnormally high [1][pp.133,134].

Therefore, it is required to reduce the roll rates during the transients and let it stabilize to zero as fast as possible. In [14] typical nominal values of an air launched missile system were provided wherein, the roll rate bandwidth of 2rad/s and the maximum desired roll rate of 300 deg/sec were considered, the same has been considered as the binding values in this dissertation.

1.9 Missile Servos

Different types of fin servomechanisms can be used in roll autopilot designs. The detailed requirements for the fin servo are developed from various considerations in the guidance system [16] such as,


The bandwidths of the servo must be high enough so that adequate bandwidth can be achieved in the pitch autopilot for stabilizing an unstable bare airframe, so that the roll autopilot can be fast enough to suppress induced roll moments of high frequency.


The no-load angular gain should be high enough so that saturation on radar noise does not appreciably reduce the average actuator gain for guidance signals.


The fin servo should be very stiff to load torques to avoid degradation by unwanted feedback from fin angle or angle of attack.


Surface to Air or Air to Air Missiles require large Bandwidths and a high Maximum fin rate to match their high performance requirements. These specifications are met using hot or cold gas servos [1] for flights of short duration. Hydraulic servos are popular for flights longer than one minute as they are costly but provide the lightest and most compact solution. But their performance deteriorates due to problems arising after long storage (dirt, deterioration of seals, etc.)[1, 16]. Present day electric actuation of any sort cannot meet these high performance specifications.

1.9.1 Design Criterion for Selection of Servo Parameters

The various design criterion used to determine the servo parameters are as follows.


The bandwidths of the servo must be greater than that of the autopilot which must be greater than that of the guidance loop. By design the BW of the servo has to be 4 to 5 times that of the autopilot.


Specifications to control the degree of stability, for example time domain spec- ifications such as peak overshoot, settling time, rise time or frequency domain specifications like Gain margin, Phase Margin etc.


The servo gain k s and servo bandwidth ω ns should be such so as to avoid fin rate saturation in the presence of noise. Hence, both these parameters must be at their minimum. For eg, for a typical hot gas servo these are k s = 0.007 rad/volt, µ = 0.5 and ω ns = 180 rad/sec [1][p.102] similar parameters for another servo with µ = 0.6 and ω ns = 200 rad/sec can be found in [17].

1.10 Adaptive Control in Autopilots

Autopilots employing classical feedback control systems are based on design of com- pensators with conservative stability margins [1]. However such designs may result in poor performance due to the reduced closed loop bandwidth. Also, the gains, time con- stants etc in an autopilot are subject to variations due to factors like mass changes due to propellant usage, changes in speed and height and changes in static margin.Though the mass and static margin changes can be catered for by good design, large changes in


speed and height result in substantial changes in aerodynamics derivatives. For example,

in case of roll position control autopilots, the aerodynamic gain L ξ /L p does not change

much with changes in air density or speed whereas the aerodynamic time constant l p can undergo large changes. This calls for gain scheduling for the entire missile flight

envelope in order to maintain a satisfactory response. This increases the complexity of the system. Also, the autopilot is not robust to cater for unknown external disturbances and unmodeled dynamics. On the other hand, modern control approaches require exact mathematical model of the plant and also some information on characteristics of the dis- turbance acting on the system. Since the exact model is difficult to obtain and bounds

of disturbance may not be exactly known as also the nature of the disturbance, these

modern control systems also go unstable in the presence of unmodeled dynamics.Hence model reference adaptive control systems are used on many large aircraft though the system is complex and has its own drawbacks. Adaptive control technology is gaining importance in complex machine control systems due to its reduced dependence on plant model.More significantly, adaptive controllers, instead of simply controlling systems can provide the ability to compensate for a wide variety of system failures in complex sys- tems even without prior knowledge of how the system failed. A study of use of adaptive control in autopilots in tactical missiles is given in [9].



In this chapter, a study of missile autopilots with special emphasis on roll autopilot was carried out. The importance of roll stabilisation was brought out in the study.

A brief study of the design criterion for selection of missile servos whose requirement

and/or type is based on the guidance system considerations has also been carried out. Use of adaptive control in modern autopilots is discussed.



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