Date of Award

December 2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Sciences

First Advisor

Jospeh J. Vacek


This grounded theory study explores the handling qualities of an autonomous, large UAS based upon semi-structured interviews with eleven MQ-4C Triton air vehicle operators (AVO). Through inquiry into the tasks and difficulties experienced during operation of Triton, themes regarding the role of the AVO, the role of the automation, and the role of the interface were developed using the constant comparative method. Interconnections between the developed themes led to theory about the applicability of the handling quality framework to autonomous UAS, the tasks performed by the AVO, the human factors applied to AVO, and the relationship of the AVO to the UAS. Results showed that the command responsibilities and principles of human factors are little changed from piloted aircraft. However, the flying qualities and tasks required by the operator were seen to be significantly different, resulting in the system traits of intuitiveness, predictability, and flexibility as drivers for operator evaluation of the system. Ultimately the change to handling qualities characteristics suggests that the approach to system design for autonomous UAS should frame the interaction between the AVO and UAS as one of teamwork, which includes consideration of trust in the interaction.