Oklahoma Higher Education Campus E-Clips sponsored by the Communicators Council

June 2013

OSU Students Design Tornado-Chasing UAVs

A model of how the UAV from OSU works.

Students from Oklahoma State University’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering have designed storm- penetrating air vehicles. The photo is a model of how the UAV works.

Students from Oklahoma State University’s department of mechanical and aerospace engineering have designed storm-penetrating air vehicles. The unmanned aircraft are designed to penetrate thunderstorms, including the supercells that spawn tornadoes, and obtain meteorological data vital for weather forecasting.

“Oklahoma, along with many regions in the U.S., has to deal with severe weather year- round, but violent thunderstorms and tornadoes are most worrisome,” said Jamey Jacob, an MAE professor who oversaw the project. “Better prediction methods can save lives, but this also requires more data about how storms form.”

The vehicles collect important information about weather systems that can be used for both immediate forecasts of the storm’s path and strength and for predictive models. The data can also be used in numerical simulations to aid meteorologists in their understanding of tornado genesis.

Three teams of OSU aerospace engineering juniors participated in the project: the Barnstormers, the Flying Honey Badgers, and the Stormtroopers. Each team designed a vehicle with corresponding onboard sensors, ground control, launch and recovery systems that could be deployed from a catapult or unimproved surface, such as a dirt road. The aircraft, controlled by a pilot on the ground, would penetrate the storm and relay data back to the ground crew. Some of the teams’ designs also included provisions to deploy meteorological sounding devices, which would provide extra data about the thermodynamic properties of the storm system.

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