For Vladislav Gavrilets, mathematics has wings. As a PhD candidate at MIT, he has built an avionics system that enabled a one-and-a-half-meter-long unmanned helicopter to complete programmed flips and rolls without human intervention. The two-time junior chess champion of Kyrgyzstan studied an expert pilot’s strategy for performing aerial maneuvers, modeled it mathematically, and created algorithms to execute it. Then he wired up an onboard, custom flight control box containing sensors, including a Global Positioning System receiver and an altimeter to monitor the helecopter’s position, and a radio that transmitted data to a ground-based processor. Fed with such real-time information, the processor continuously updated flight instructions. Recently, Gavrilets used his algorithms to demonstrate how the helicopter can complete an air show routine. He hopes improved processing will lead to unmanned helicopters that react to unexpected obstacles. Eventually, such helicopters could perform military reconnaissance or film aerial scenes for movies. Gavrilets is now a manager of control systems development at Athena Technologies in Warrenton. VA, which makes miniature autopilots for unmanned aircraft.