The tempest unmanned aircraft system for in situ observations of tornadic supercells: Design and VORTEX2 flight results



This paper reports results from field deployments of the Tempest Unmanned Aircraft System, the first of its kind of unmanned aircraft system designed to perform in situ sampling of supercell thunderstorms, including those that produce tornadoes. A description of the critical system components, consisting of the unmanned aircraft, ground support vehicles, communications network, and custom software, is given. The unique concept of operations and regulatory issues for this type of highly nomadic and dynamic system are summarized, including airspace regulatory decisions from the Federal Aviation Administration to accommodate unmanned aircraft system operations for the study of supercell thunderstorms. A review of the system performance and concept of operations effectiveness during flights conducted for the spring 2010 campaign of the VORTEX2 project is provided. These flights resulted in the first-ever sampling of the rear flank gust front and airmass associated with the rear flank downdraft of a supercell thunderstorm by an unmanned aircraft system. A summary of the lessons learned, future work, and next steps is provided. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.