Conventional use of magnetic bearings relies on a zero reference to keep the rotor centered in the radial and axial axes. This paper compares different control methods developed for the alternate control task of tracking an axial dynamic target. Controllers based on fuzzy logic, sliding mode, and direct linearization were designed to meet this task. Performance criteria, such as maximum axial displacement, minimum phase lag and IR power losses were compared for each controller. The large motion, tracking problem for a rotor has utility in applications where dynamic seal clearances are required. This has a variety of potential applications in turbo-machinery, such as active stall control. r 2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.