The CopterSonde drone is being flown next to a meteorological tower at the OU Kessler Atmospheric and Ecological Field Station in Purcell. State researchers are among team who received a NASA grant to study low-altitude weather forecasting to better assist in developing air traffic management plans for unmanned aerial vehicles, like drones.
Researchers awarded NASA grant to improve forecasting
NORMAN, OKLA. – As a part of a collaborative team of researchers, the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling and the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at the University of Oklahoma received a NASA grant to develop improvements for low-altitude weather forecasting. This team is one of five university teams from across the nation selected to examine a range of technical areas in support of NASA’s aeronautics research goals.
The lead for OU’s contribution to the collaborative grant is Phillip B. Chilson, director of the Center for Autonomous Sensing and Sampling, faculty member in Advanced Radar Research Center and professor in the School of Meteorology.
According to Chilson, the main idea of the project is to determine how the research team can improve weather forecasts to better assist in developing air traffic management plans for unmanned aerial vehicles, like drones. These improvements will support low-altitude flights for services, like package delivery, and infrastructure inspections like assessing the structural integrity of bridges, storm damage and more.
“The closer you get to the Earth’s surface, the more influence you have from thermal forcing from heated surfaces or geographical structures that really makes forecasting the weather close to the surface more complex, especially when you get in the vicinity of urban areas, which have their own impacts studied in urban meteorology,” Chilson said.
The grant is supported by NASA’s University Leadership Initiative, which supports innovative research among American research universities and encourages opportunities for student researchers to gain experience applying research to aviation challenges.
Elizabeth Pillar-Little, research scientist for the School of Meteorology and CASS assistant director, said the grant will fund one post-doctoral fellowship and a graduate student fellowship, as well as some funding for other graduate and undergraduate student support for fieldwork data collection.
“This project is a nice example of how fieldwork and models can work together to create an overall picture of the best solution which optimizes the process and makes it more efficient and cost effective,” Pillar-Little said.
The team will receive $5.2 million over four years. Team members include Oklahoma State University in Stillwater; the University of Oklahoma in Norman; the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; the University of Kentucky in Lexington; Virginia Tech in Blacksburg; the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado; Vigilant Aerospace Systems Inc. in Oklahoma City; AirXOS, part of GE Aviation, in Boston; and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.