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In this paper, we investigate a communication system in which unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used as relays between ground-based terminals and a network base station. We develop an algorithm for optimizing the performance of the ground-to-relay links through control of the UAV heading angle. To quantify link performance, we define the ergodic normalized transmission rate (ENTR) for the links between the ground nodes and the relay, and derive a closed-form expression for it in terms of the eigenvalues of the channel correlation matrix. We show that the ENTR can be approximated as a sinusoid with an offset that depends on the heading of the UAV. Using this observation, we develop a closed-form expression for the UAV heading that maximizes the uplink network data rate while keeping the rate of each individual link above a certain threshold. When the current UAV relay assignments cannot meet the minimum link requirements, we investigate the deployment and heading control problem for new UAV relays as they are added to the network, and propose a smart handoff algorithm that updates node and relay assignments as the topology of the network evolves.