Universities Granted Drone Access in Extreme-Weather Area of U.S.


A consortium led by the University of Colorado Boulder has received permission from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to start flying drones over parts of Texas and Oklahoma to conduct weather research.

The consortium, which includes CU-Boulder's Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV) and researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) and Texas Tech University (TTU), received a Certificate of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to operate a Tempest drone over 54,000 square miles of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. The region is known for its extreme weather, including supercell storms that can spawn damaging winds, large hail and tornadoes.

The new “southern COA” complements the consortium’s previously granted 48,000-square-mile “northern COA,” which covers portions of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming, according to Eric Frew, RECUV director and aerospace engineering science professor at CU-Boulder.

The northern and southern COAs together cover an area about the size of Colorado. The Tempest has wingspan of more than 10 feet and was developed at CU-Boulder to better understand the origin and development of severe storms by flying to the storms’ edges and measuring air pressure, temperature, relative humidity and wind velocities, says Frew.
Sponsored by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the first project in the southern COA will be the deployment of the Tempest near Lubbock, Texas, during the last two weeks of June. The project will include the UAS team from CU-Boulder and UNL and the mobile Dopler radar team from TTU.

“The goal of this new, three-year project is to expand the mission capabilities of the battery-powered Tempest UAS by enabling it to sense the local wind environment,” says Frew. “The UAS is designed to look for updrafts and wind shears, which can be exploited to conserve energy stored in the battery.”

“The next step is to integrate the technology from this project into an unmanned aircraft system known as TTwistor, which is the successor to the Tempest,” adds Brian Argrow, co-investigator on the project and a professor of aerospace engineering sciences at CU-Boulder. TTwistor is being developed by RECUV with financial support from the Colorado Advanced Industries Accelerator Program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado: Former CU-Boulder graduate research assistant Kevin Rahauser launches the Tempest unmanned aircraft with an electric winch in 2013.

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