Coyote howls into the wind

February 15, 2016  - By

NOAA, Raytheon deploy UAS for hurricane research

A team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Raytheon has successfully demonstrated advancements of the Coyote Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), verifying new technology that improves Coyote’s ability to collect vital weather data on hurricanes.

Coyote drops out of a P-3 weather surveillance plane, spreads its wings and flies straight at a hurricane, braving violent winds and punishing rain to gather weather data and beam it back to meteorologists.

Drew Osbrink and Eric Redweik of Sensintel and NOAA hurricane researcher Joe Cione monitor data from the Coyote as it flies into Hurricane Edouard in 2014. (Photo: NOAA)

Drew Osbrink and Eric Redweik of Sensintel and NOAA hurricane researcher Joe Cione monitor data from the Coyote as it flies into Hurricane Edouard in 2014. (Photo: NOAA)

Coyote solves a problem that has limited forecasters’ ability to tell how hard a hurricane will hit. The secret behind the storm’s punch lies in what is known as the “boundary layer” — a low-altitude area that includes the surface of the ocean. Because hurricanes are fueled by warm ocean water, information collected at the interface of atmosphere and ocean is vital to the understanding and prediction of a storm’s strength.

“That’s where the energy is extracted from the ocean to the atmosphere,” said Joe Cione, a NOAA hurricane researcher. “Unfortunately, it is too difficult for us to go with manned aircraft to fly down there.”

The Coyote can maneuver in the most violent regions of a hurricane.Traditional weather instruments parachute from a plane and grab only a snapshot of humidity, wind speed and other factors, but Coyote’s winged design enables it to linger and return to certain areas for more measurements.

“Coyote will gather data specifically in the eye wall where it can provide information for forecasters to predict intensity from a safe distance,” said John Hobday, Raytheon. “This is a significant difference for researchers: instead of providing a snapshot of data, it’s a full-length movie.”

Source: GPS world staff

The Coyote after a successful flight on Jan. 7. (Photo: NOAA)

Operational Upgrades

In a Jan. 7 test, the Coyote was released from NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter P-3 aircraft and flew over the Avon Park Air Force Range in Florida, to measure the transmission range of upgraded technologies. It set a new distance record for flight control and data transmission to the P-3, and provided hurricane forecasters with real-time data on atmospheric air pressure, temperature, moisture, wind speed and direction as well as surface temperature.

Data collected will help improve the accuracy of forecasts. “Here at the National Hurricane Center (NHC), we are keenly interested in obtaining measurements from the Coyote of the strongest winds near the center of the storm,” said Chris Landsea, science operations officer at NHC. “Coyote could help us paint a better picture of current storm intensity for our storm updates.”

In 2014, NOAA deployed four of the Coyote planes into Hurricane Edouard, a Category 3 storm, at controlled altitudes as low as 400 feet. Scientists on board the P-3 received meteorological data in both the eye of the storm and the eye wall.

However, the P-3 had to fly 5 to 7 miles from the Coyote to pick up its signal. So engineers at Raytheon and the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center upgraded Coyote’s sensor systems and improved its communications package to allow it to talk to the plane over longer distances. Now, Coyote can fly for 50 miles away from the launch aircraft, which will be free to continue its own mission.

Coyote also was outfitted with an upgraded instrument package that includes an infrared sensor to measure sea surface temperature, which will help scientists understand how a hurricane extracts energy from the ocean — and how it might intensify or change. The team also is working toward optimizing battery life.

The test flight verified the Coyote’s ability to transmit the data collected from its instrument package to operators aboard the P-3 as well as at the NHC, where personnel monitor storms and develop forecasts.

Source: GPS world staff

NOAA scientist Paul Reasor demonstrates the Coyote. (Photo: NOAA)

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