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Atmospheric Measurement Techniques An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 9, issue 4 | Copyright
Atmos. Meas. Tech., 9, 1845-1857, 2016
https://doi.org/10.5194/amt-9-1845-2016
© Author(s) 2016. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 28 Apr 2016

Research article | 28 Apr 2016

The Pilatus unmanned aircraft system for lower atmospheric research

Gijs de Boer1,2, Scott Palo1, Brian Argrow1, Gabriel LoDolce1, James Mack1, Ru-Shan Gao2, Hagen Telg1, Cameron Trussel1, Joshua Fromm1, Charles N. Long1,2, Geoff Bland3, James Maslanik1, Beat Schmid4, and Terry Hock5 Gijs de Boer et al.
  • 1University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 2National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth System Research Laboratory, Boulder, Colorado, USA
  • 3National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops Island, Virginia, USA
  • 4Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, Washington, USA
  • 5National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado, USA

Abstract. This paper presents details of the University of Colorado (CU) “Pilatus” unmanned research aircraft, assembled to provide measurements of aerosols, radiation and thermodynamics in the lower troposphere. This aircraft has a wingspan of 3.2m and a maximum take-off weight of 25kg, and it is powered by an electric motor to reduce engine exhaust and concerns about carburetor icing. It carries instrumentation to make measurements of broadband up- and downwelling shortwave and longwave radiation, aerosol particle size distribution, atmospheric temperature, relative humidity and pressure and to collect video of flights for subsequent analysis of atmospheric conditions during flight. In order to make the shortwave radiation measurements, care was taken to carefully position a high-quality compact inertial measurement unit (IMU) and characterize the attitude of the aircraft and its orientation to the upward-looking radiation sensor. Using measurements from both of these sensors, a correction is applied to the raw radiometer measurements to correct for aircraft attitude and sensor tilt relative to the sun. The data acquisition system was designed from scratch based on a set of key driving requirements to accommodate the variety of sensors deployed. Initial test flights completed in Colorado provide promising results with measurements from the radiation sensors agreeing with those from a nearby surface site. Additionally, estimates of surface albedo from onboard sensors were consistent with local surface conditions, including melting snow and bright runway surface. Aerosol size distributions collected are internally consistent and have previously been shown to agree well with larger, surface-based instrumentation. Finally the atmospheric state measurements evolve as expected, with the near-surface atmosphere warming over time as the day goes on, and the atmospheric relative humidity decreasing with increased temperature. No directional bias on measured temperature, as might be expected due to uneven heating of the sensor housing over the course of a racetrack pattern, was detected. The results from these flights indicate that the CU Pilatus platform is capable of performing research-grade lower tropospheric measurement missions.

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This paper provides an overview of a recently developed unmanned aerial system (UAS) for study of the lower atmosphere. This platform, the University of Colorado Pilatus UAS, is capable of providing measurements of atmospheric thermodynamics (temperature, pressure, humidity), atmospheric aerosol size distributions, and broadband radiation. These quantities are critical for understanding a variety of atmospheric processes relevant for characterization of the surface energy budget.
This paper provides an overview of a recently developed unmanned aerial system (UAS) for study...
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