Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

March 2019


As the Yalobusha River rose around Greenwood, Mississippi, during a major rainstorm in late February, scientists from the Northern Gulf Institute at Mississippi State University deployed a small unmanned plane that took high-resolution images of rising waters and beamed them back in real time to NOAA weather forecasters.

We were able to see the water as it rose over the course of two days, which helped our office confirm when the crest had been reached,” said Dr. Suzanne Van Cooten, hydrologist-in-charge at the NOAA National Weather Service Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center in Slidell, Louisiana. “This visual information really helps us improve our forecasts so we can provide critical information to those in an affected area.”
Scientists piloted the 8.5-foot long by 14-foot wide Griffon Outlaw G2E unmanned plane from MSU’s Raspet Flight Research Center in Starkville, Mississippi, equipped with the Overwatch Imaging TK-5 payload — a system able to take, process and transmit images with 6-inch resolution when flying 4,500 feet above the ground.

The images (Figures 1 and 2) typical real time images for NOAA and FEMA were transmitted to the High Performance Computing Collaboratory at MSU, and could be immediately downloaded by NOAA’s NWS Lower Mississippi River Forecast Center. NOAA forecasters used the information to refine forecasts that are vital to local emergency managers, the public and the area’s farmers.

In a parallel effort, the data was also downloaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 4 for real-time examination and assessment. “Aerial imagery and other data made available from unmanned aircraft systems is increasingly showing its value as a resource to provide our local, state, and federal emergency managers with actionable information needed to most effectively perform their duties,” said Travis Potter, Remote Sensing and UAS Coordinator for FEMA 4. “The information provided from this operation could be extremely useful toward helping folks on the ground to efficiently distribute resources, manage evacuations, and aid in future recovery efforts.”

Once the plane landed, scientists retrieved higher resolution images stored onboard that can now be used to improve flood prediction models.

“We’re really pleased with the results of this fixed-wing unmanned aircraft system,” said Capt. Philip Hall, director of NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program. “The unmanned aircraft and payload shows great potential to provide forecasters with valuable data to improve forecasts as well as flood models. We look forward to continuing to work with the Northern Gulf Institute and NOAA’s National Weather Service to transition the technology into operations.”


Test team - Left to right: Ed Dumas (ATDD)

NOAA Scientists and Engineers Conduct sUAS Test in Florida

On March 4-6, a team of nine NOAA scientists and engineers gathered at Avon Park, a U.S. Air Force (USAF) test range north of Sebring, Florida, to conduct first-of-a-kind tests on two small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS). The team consisted of personnel from the Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD) of NOAA’s Air Resources Laboratory, NOAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Program Office (UASPO), and NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) Aircraft Operations Center (AOC). The two sUASs being tested were recently acquired by ATDD. They are a Meteomatics Meteodrone Severe Storms Edition (SSE), which performs vertical takeoffs and landings, and a BlackSwift Technologies S2 fixed-wing aircraft similar in design to an airplane.

The tests were very successful. Over the three-day testing period, the team performed over a dozen flights with the Meteodrone and six flights with the S2. The Meteodrone was flown up to a maximum altitude of 950 m above ground level (AGL), whereas the S2 reached 1200 m AGL during one of its flights. A ground-based radar system, integrated with geospatial software, was deployed in an attempt to determine its capability to mitigate potential threats to these sUAS(s) by targets within the airspace (e.g., traditional airplanes, other sUAS(s), hot air balloons, birds, etc.). During all tests, the ground-based radar system detected both the Meteodrone and S2, as well as other air traffic in the area. To further evaluate the ground-based radar system, on 5 March a NOAA Twin Otter aircraft performed multiple flyovers of the site, and the ground-based radar system detected this aircraft as well. Additionally, Meteodrone data were used to generate analyses of temperature, moisture, and wind fields in near real-time using the Meteomatics software package.

Since Avon Park is a USAF bombing range which NOAA AOC has utilized to test both full-size and drone systems in the past, its airspace is not subject to the same Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restrictions imposed on the national airspace system. The relaxed limitations enabled the team to fly both aircraft to their respective maximum flight altitudes. Knowing each aircraft’s upper limit and the point at which the operator would lose visual line of sight were key to performing safer, higher flights in the future. Essentially, this exercise enabled the team to measure the same kind of parameters used by air traffic controllers.

Taking measurements of temperature, relative humidity, wind speed and pressure (collectively known as vertical profiles) with a copter and fixed-wing aircraft at such a high altitude hasn’t been done before, so scientists were unsure what to expect. Historical data is sparse, so there has always been a large gap in knowing what is happening with the thermodynamics and kinematics of the atmosphere (e.g. the transformations responsible for weather and climate). Flying the sUAS(s) to higher altitudes enables scientists to design increasingly useful experiments to study the boundary layer – the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere where we live, where weather occurs, and where ARL focuses its research.

NOAA’s AOC and UASPO are working to obtain Certificates of Authorization (COA) from the FAA to fly up to 10,000 ft. Once COAs are obtained, both of ATDD’s sUAS(s) will be used for vertical profile sampling within the lowest few kilometers of the atmosphere. Higher altitude, more frequent measurements will greatly enhance operational weather forecasting by the National Weather Service (NWS) through analysis of the observations, and inclusion of the data into numerical weather prediction models. These data will also help refine future field intensive studies of the boundary layer. The test at Avon Park paves the way toward eventually having autonomou

NOAA Scientists and Engineers Conduct sUAS Test in Florida Read More »