Travis Fields, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Office: 370H R. H. Flarsheim Hall
Phone: 816-235-1291


  • Ph.D., Mechanical Engineering, University of Nevada–Reno, 2013
  • M.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Nevada–Reno, 2009
  • B.S., Mechanical Engineering, University of Nevada–Reno, 2008

Research Focus/Expertise

  • Autonomous Aerodynamic Decelerator Systems
  • Unmanned Arial Vehicles
  • Robotics
  • Vehicle Path Planning & Control


Dr. Travis Fields is currently an Assistant Professor in Mechanical Engineering.  He joined the UMKC faculty in 2013, teaches a variety of undergraduate and graduate courses, and conducts research focused on improving unmanned aircraft and parachute systems.

Dr. Fields received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. from the University of Nevada, Reno.  His M.S. research focused on the development of a tele-operated four-wheel drive/four-wheel steer ground vehicle.  The control logic was developed through handling qualities optimization of the instantaneous center of rotation.  Dr. Fields’ dissertation work focused on the development and testing of a novel parachute trajectory generation methodology applied to typically uncontrollable circular parachutes in the presence of known atmospheric wind.

As director of the Parachute and Aerial Vehicle Systems (PAVS) laboratory, Instruments and Measurements Lab (IML), and the Drone Research and Teaching (DRAT) laboratory, Dr. Fields research group conducts cutting edge research on parachute, parafoil, and unmanned aircraft systems. Research spans design, construction, simulation, and experimental validation of aerospace and mechatronic systems.

Research has been (or is currently) funded by the Office of Naval Research, Natick Soldier Research Development Engineering Center, Naval Postgraduate School, NASA, University of Missouri System, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.


  • ME 306 – Computer Aided Engineering (Sp 2015 only)
    • Students learn to develop and utilize computer software to solve difficult engineering problems.
    • Topics covered include: root finding, optimization, numerical differentiation/integration, matrix operations, solutions to simultaneous equations, and numerical solutions to differential equations
  • ME 352 – Instrumentation and Measurements
    • Students learn to quantify the quality of measurement data as well as gain the ability to perform a variety of experiments using modern instruments.
    • Topics covered include: data acquisition, sampling theory, uncertainty analysis, pressure measurements, fluid velocity and flow measurements, strain gauges, displacement and acceleration measurements, and thermal measurements.
  • ME 401AR – Aerodynamics
    • Students learn to estimate the aerodynamic effects on a variety of shapes.
    • Topics covered include: inviscid flow, airfoils, thin airfoil theory, lift and drag, wings of finite span
  • ME 401ID – Intermediate Dynamics
    • Students learn to create and simulate complex rigid body dynamic models using Kane’s method.
    • Topics covered include: directUntitledion cosine matrices, complex rotations, rigid body kinematics, inertia dyadics, generalized coordinates/speeds, Kane’s equations, and differential equation simulations.
  • ME 457 – Mechatronics System Design
    • Students learn to apply rotation_test_stand2instrumentation and feedback control theory to mechanical and electronic systems.
    • Topics covered include: microcontrollers, sensor communication, data filtering, state estimation and data fusion, feedback control systems, experimental gain tuning, and actuator control.
  • ME 401 – Robotics System Identification
    • Students investigate practical system identification techniques focused with a focus on actual experimentation-based discovery
    • Topics covered include: input design, least squares parameter estimation, maximum likelihood estimation, residual analysis, and real-time estimation strategies.


Ph.D. Students:

  • Mohammed AlAbsi, A Paradigm Shift in Flight Testing and Flight Control via Model Identification Adaptive Control, Spring 2018 (expected)
  • Ignacio Hernandez, Development and Testing of an Autonomous Detection, Localization, and Pursuit System for Single Evader-Single Pursuer Aircraft, Spring 2020 (expected)

M.S. Students:

  • Mohammed Junayed Hasan Zahed, Real-Time Model Structure Determination for Improved Flight Performance of Modified Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Winter 2018 (expected)
  • Christopher Tiemann, Precision Aerial Delivery via Novel Unmanned Aircraft Decelerator Systems, Spring 2019 (expected)
  • Jeffrey Renzelman, Diagnostic Testing and Adaptive Experimental Design for RF-interrogated Unmanned Aircraft, Spring 2019 (expected)
  • Shawn Herrington, Control and Planning for a Steerable Cruciform Parachute Delivery System, Spring 2018 (expected)
  • Tyler Kraft, Extended Range Aerial Delivery Using an Unpowered Autonomous Tailless UAV, Winter 2017
  • Jesse Gooding, Structural Health Monitoring with Rapid Prototyping Machines, Spring 2017 (Honeywell, Inc.)
  • Ignacio Hernandez, Development of a Multirotor Structural Inspection System, Spring 2016 (Ph.D. student UMKC)
  • John Bazin, Development of a Wireless Non-Invasive Load Distribution Measuring System for Improved Reefing Techniques, Spring 2016 (Airborne Systems)

Undergraduate Students:

  • Logan Ellis, Currently developing and validating a HIL multirotor test stand
  • Daniel McCullough, Currently creating a parafoil flight test vehicle for low-altitude model validation
  • Aldair Gongora, Currently conducting drop testing of a novel reversible reefing system for circular parachutes

Research Opportunities:

Graduate Opportunities

Highly motivated prospective graduate students interested in aerospace, mechatronics, robotics, dynamics, and control are encouraged to apply to conduct research in the Parachute and Aerial Vehicles (PAVS) lab, Instruments and Measurements lab, or the Drone Research and Teaching (DRAT) lab.  Students are encouraged to apply to the UMKC graduate program prior to contacting Dr. Fields.

Undergraduate Opportunities

Each semester there are a limited number of undergraduate research opportunities for exceptional students.  Students will apply for undergraduate research grants, and are encouraged to attend AIAA regional student conferences to present their work.

Drone Research and Teaching (DRAT) Lab

Unmanned aircraft research and teaching activities are conducted in the DRAT lab. Two main thrusts related to mulitrotor unmanned aircraft are currently being investigated: (1) rigorous investigation for applicability of multirotor aircraft in bridge inspection operations and (2) in-flight learning with model identification adaptive control in scenarios with little a priori model information. The lab has a 12′ x 8′ x 9′ safe flight volume that can be easily equipped with eight motion capture cameras.


Additionally, flight testing can be conducted in the UMKC Flight Test Space, which is a floating 20′ x 20′ x 10′ flight volume also housed in Flarsheim Hall.


Current research is focused on the development of advanced system identification and model-based control techniques for small unmanned aircraft. The high-level objective is for an unmanned system controller to be capable of learning how to fly with minimal to know a priori knowledge. One potential approach is to utilize real-time parameter estimation techniques (Fourier Transform Regression) coupled with a Nonlinear Dynamic Inversion (NDI) control system. Novel techniques for auto-adaptive input excitation enable minimal energy with maximum dynamic excitation information.

Instruments and Measurements Lab (IML)

Research in the broad area of instrumentation design and evaluation is conducted in the Instruments and Measurements Lab (IML). Current efforts are investigating novel uses of 3D-printing technology for advanced structural health monitoring.


In addition to structural health monitoring, the IML has focused on developing an instrumentation suite capable of wirelessly and non-invasively measuring canopy suspension line loading during inflation and terminal descent.  The current prototype load cell/amplification board is shown on the right.  The device works by changing suspension line geometry slightly.  During loading, the tension in the line pushes on a cantilever.  The cantilever deflection can be measured with strain gauges, and transmitted over Bluetooth to a host device for storage.


Testing has been conducted on both a Bose Electroforce load frame, as well as on an actual parachute (with up to eight load cells mounted on the parachute).  Current work is seeking to improve the PCB design and microcontroller software in order to collect more accurate load distribution data.

Parachute and Aerial Vehicle Systems (PAVS) Lab

The PAVS lab is currently focused on the development of low-cost precision aerial delivery systems and strategies that can bridge the current cost and performance gaps between uncontrolled parachute systems and costly ram-air parafoil systems.

Single Actuator-based Precision Delivery using a Cruciform Parachute

Cruciform (also known as cross) canopies are inexpensive parachute systems that still exhibit good parachute performance characteristics. However, it is important to consider how the parachute can be controlled. Currently, two categories of parachute control exist: asymmetric and symmetric control. Symmetric control enables the modification of the system descent speed. And in the presence of accurate wind predictions, the system can be controlled through riding the various winds to a desired target. Asymmetric control refers to deforming only a portion of the canopy, thereby creating an asymmetric pressure distribution. This asymmetry results in horizontal gliding capabilities.

The cruciform canopy is controlled with a single actuator, making it a highly cost-effective yet accurate aerial delivery method. Canopy heading is controlled with a permanently deformed panel (through suspension line shortening) with the adjacent panel controlled with a servo-actuator. The glide ratio can then be controlled such that when the system is spinning the GR = 0.0, and when the heading is stabilized the asymmetric canopy deformation creates a GR = 0.3-0.4.

Parachute gain tuning was accomplished in the NASA Langley Vertical Spin Tunnel in Hampton, VA. The 20ft diameter vertical wind tunnel provided a unique testing platform in which the system can fall with an unlimited test duration. Real-time tuning was the completed creating a robust heading controller.

Outdoor flight testing has been conducted with a large hexacopter (DJI M600 and GD-1400 X8), Arcturus T-20 fixed wing unmanned aircraft, UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter, and a SkyVan fixed wing aircraft. Guidance results have demonstrated high accuracy even with simple guidance strategies.