The best way for researchers to get information about a tornado is to send sensors high up into the storm—a maneuver that is too dangerous for a manned aircraft and, up until now, has been too complex for most remote-controlled craft.
Engineering students at Oklahoma State University have designed three concept drones that may solve this problem. Three teams of students came up with plans for Storm Penetrating Air Vehicles (SPAVs). The goal is for these remotely piloted machines to ultimately replace storm chasers, who risk life and limb driving after tornadoes to capture data.
Here's what the drones needed to be able to do:
- Take off from a typical road
- Be transportable by a standard flat-bed trailer
- Lift off and land in 22 mph winds, with gusts of up to 28 mph
- Fly for at least four hours at 5,000 feet without refueling
- Carry at least one, preferably multiple, dropsondes into the weather system
Dropsondes? Dropsondes are cylinders full of sensors that can be dropped or carried (by aircraft or balloons) into storms, where they rapidly collect and transmit data about humidity, temperature, windspeed, and wind direction. The National Center for Atmospheric Research uses dropsondes to study hurricanes.
The SPAVs could serve as more powerful, reusable dropsondes, with onboard sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed, altitude, GPS, and dew point depression, as well as an optical and infrared camera.
While these are only concepts for now, Jamey Jacob, the Oklahoma State University professor in charge of the project, is in talks with the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Kentucky, Virginia Tech, and the University of Oklahoma to develop these systems for use by first responders.
Currently, there's no direct way for the Federal Aviation Administration to authorize such flights into storms, though Jacob told Popular Science that a professor at UC Boulder has received special exemptions in the past. It seems likely that these kind of unmanned vehicles will be covered by new FAA rules, which are set to allow drones into commercial airspace starting in 2015.
Kudos to them! Unfortunately the design is probably a little off for high wind recon. You may wanna contact the guys in ct at flightronics and see if they can help you out, they flew their aircraft in a very low pressure system during hurricane Sandy, granted they were testing other devices, but im sure they may be able to help.
@D37: I don't believe this research is meant to stop a tornado. Instead, it is meant to learn about them to determine which storms are more likely to spawn a tornado and help determine which direction they will go. The more research about it, the more lives that will be saved.
However, you can't say 'Oh, it's your fault, you choose to live there'. Massive amounts of crops are produced in Oklahoma. Crops that feed people and livestock (which becomes more food). The U.S. needs people to live there so we can have enough food. And even if people were to move, there is no place to go that wouldn't be 'stupid'. West coast has earthquakes, the east coast has hurricanes, the south has blistering heat, and the north has freezing cold. Pretty much anywhere has something that can kill you.
What needs to happen is a better way to search debris after such events. If a mapping helicopter or drones could have thermal and radar to try to locate bodies and send that data to handheld devices so that the searchers for survivors may improve speed and accuracy.
A disaster can happen anywhere on earth. The west coast could have earthquakes. The central mountains could have volcano's. The plains tornado's and east and south hurricanes.
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Make the 1B1M (one buck, one minute) foam rc planes, put cheap throwaway sensors on them and fly them into the storm.
To live in Oklahoma you have to be tough. It's unfortunate that people die during these events but usually you get advance warning. But, this planet is fragile also. Didn't an asteroid (planet killer) just pass by the earth last week? I hope that D37 is building a rocket to leave this earth before one hits us (it's happened before!!). Better GET THE HELL OFF the planet. Or you can live like an Okie (or someone on the coast, etc), live life to it's fullest. We don't want the scared and weak. Stay away from OK!