Survey of Small UAV Propulsion System Performance

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Publication Source

46th AIAA Aerospace Sciences Meeting and Exhibit


The relative dearth of available data on Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (SUAV) motor performance is a major hindrance to the application of standard aircraft conceptual design methods. United States Military desires SUAVs that can fly for hours and even days. This requirement is a major driving force behind Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (SUAV) development. In order to more fully understand the design space and the factors that affect the endurance of a SUAV a great deal needs to be known about the performance of the propulsion source. Most SUAVs today employ commercial off of the shelf (COTS) technology most frequently used by model airplane hobbyists. The endurance times of these flights are rough estimates arrived at through trial and error and actual endurance times are not specifically designed for.

Few motors on this scale have been evaluated for efficiency, power, and torque. This effort evaluated the performance of three electric motors ranging from 0.25 hp to 0.8 hp in a wind tunnel at throttle settings and airspeeds typical of cruise values for SUAV applications. Thrust, torque, RPM, current, and voltage were measured. The results were then used to calculate efficiency for each system at various throttle settings. Significant wind tunnel test section blockage effects occurred under some throttle setting and wind speed combinations. Wall surface static pressure measurements were then recorded in order to accurately correct for blockage. The most efficient [corrected] operating conditions were then reported for each motor tested, as were overall performance data obtained.




Permission documentation is on file.


American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics

Place of Publication

Reno, NV