Professor of aerospace engineering sciences Brian Argrow (who also serves as associate dean of education) led a team of faculty and students this summer in flying the first unmanned aircraft system into a severe storm--known as a supercell thunderstorm—to collect scientific data.
The CU aircraft, called the Tempest, weighs 12 pounds and has a 10-foot wingspan. It can fly autonomously and is equipped to measure air pressure, temperature, relative humidity, and wind velocities.
The first–ever supercell intercept took place in early May in northwestern Kansas, during the VORTEX2 field campaign, which was designed to collect data to improve the forecasting of tornadoes. The CU Engineering team subsequently intercepted a second storm in early June near Deer Trail, Colorado, that spawned two tornadoes.
“We flew into the targeted ‘rear flank downdraft’ and also rode on part of the updraft,” Argrow said after the second storm intercept. “There was some unexpected data, so there is a good chance our team will discover things about supercells.”
VORTEX2 was the largest tornado field project in history, taking place from May 1 through June 15, and involving more than 100 scientists and 40 support vehicles from across the country. The CU Engineering team was unique in deploying an unmanned aircraft system as part of the experiment.