Real-time vision-based relative aircraft navigation

Eric N. Johnson, Anthony J. Calise, Yoko Watanabe, Jincheol Ha, James C. Neidhoefer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


This paper describes two vision-based techniques for the navigation of an aircraft relative to an airborne target using only information from a single camera fixed to the aircraft. These techniques are motivated by problems such as "see and avoid", pursuit, formation flying, and in-air refueling. By applying an Extended Kalman Filter for relative state estimation, both the velocity and position of the aircraft relative to the target can be estimated. While relative states such as bearing can be estimated fairly easily, estimating the range to the target is more difficult because it requires achieving valid depth perception with a single camera. The two techniques presented here offer distinct solutions to this problem. The first technique, Center Only Relative State Estimation, uses optimal control to generate an optimal (sinusoidal) trajectory to a desired location relative to the target that results in accurate range-to-target estimates while making minimal demands on the image processing system. The second technique, Subtended Angle Relative State Estimation, uses more rigorous image processing to arrive at a valid range estimate without requiring the aircraft to follow a prescribed path. Simulation results indicate that both methods yield range estimates of comparable accuracy while placing different demands on the aircraft and its systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)707-738
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Aerospace Computing, Information and Communication
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


Dive into the research topics of 'Real-time vision-based relative aircraft navigation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this