Building on years of collaboration using unmanned aircraft to fly into the storms that create the massive tornadoes that rip across the Midwest, scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) have formed a new research consortium.
The Unmanned Aircraft System and Severe Storms Research Group (USSRG) builds upon a partnership first formed in 2006 when CU-Boulder’s Brian Argrow and Eric Frew, both aerospace engineers with expertise in unmanned aerial systems (UAS), began working with UNL atmospheric scientist Adam Houston.
“For most of the past decade, CU-Boulder’s UAS research group has collaborated closely with Dr. Houston and his UNL severe-storm research group,” says Argrow, who will co-direct the new venture with Houston. “Our creation of the new consortium establishes a forum to productively engage current and future collaborators with whom we will work to use UAS to better understand the origins and evolution of severe storms, and to potentially revolutionize severe-storm forecasting and warning systems.”
The consortium also includes the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a joint institute of CU-Boulder and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Other members include a number of organizations and universities.
One of the consortium's assets is a well-established working relationship with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the researchers say. CU-Boulder and UNL worked with the FAA at the outset to gain approval for their use of unmanned aircraft in weather research.
“One of our biggest accomplishments was getting that authorization,” Houston says. “We have legal authorization to fly over a very large area in northeast Colorado, southwest Nebraska, northwest Kansas and southeast Wyoming, and we’re making progress to get authorization to fly over the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma.
‘Most people don’t have the ability to fly unmanned aircraft legally over such a large area, and that’s one reason why we’re on the front line of this research.”