When everyone else is running for cover from a violent storm, the Tempest unmanned aerial vehicle is going straight into it. The UAV and its instruments are part of a large-scale scientific research project called VORTEX2 that aims to understand tornadoes. The 10-foot-wide, 20-pound can move at 100 miles per hour, and has sensors to measure air pressure, moisture, wind speed, and temperature.
Initially, researchers from the University of Colorado and the University of Nebraska who developed the Tempest were unsure that their UAV would be able to make measurements in a supercell storm, the kind that spews heavy rain, hail, wind, and sometimes a tornado.
Yet last May, when the team got the green light from the FAA, they flew the Tempest into a supercell thunderstorm over northwestern Kansas. The UAV flew for 44 minutes, successfully transmitting meteorological data, along with its position and status, wirelessly to a control station and tracker vehicle on the ground.
Kochersberger, who has seen the Tempest up close, says it’s a novel use for a UAV. “I’ve talked to their researchers. I like their design philosophy,” he says. “They certainly got closer to bad weather.”