Successful Flight of University of Kansas' Unmanned Aircraft Promises to Enhance Polar Climate-Change Research


Video of the aircraft's test flight may be found here.

 An innovative unmanned aircraft conceived and built at the University of Kansas recently passed its first flight test, a crucial step on a path to help scientists gather better data at slower speeds and lower altitudes over treacherous icy terrain.

For scientists worldwide, the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS), a National Science Foundation-funded center based at the university, is a primary source of data on polar ice sheet thickness and other properties. The development of the Meridian UAV will enhance the university’s role at the forefront of global climate change research.

The 1,100-pound Meridian UAV is designed to gather data on the ice sheets of Antarctica and Greenland for CReSIS. The aircraft has been almost five years in the making under the direction of CReSIS autonomous platforms team leader Richard Hale, associate professor of aerospace engineering.

The unmanned craft will help researchers to compile better data by allowing flight passes at slower speeds and lower altitudes above the icy terrain, flights that might be too dangerous for human pilots. The Meridian would collect data on ice sheets using radar that sends an energy signal through several kilometers of ice and measures the reflection or vibration that returns. From the return data, researchers can measure the ice thickness and conditions at the bottom of the glacier where the ice meets the bedrock.

“UAVs equipped with the right sensor package have a great potential to collect much-needed data over fast-flowing glaciers and rapidly changing areas of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets,” said Prasad Gogineni, director of CReSIS. “We at CReSIS are pleased with the first successful flight test in our effort to develop operational UAVs for polar research. I congratulate Dr. Hale, his colleagues and the students involved in the project.”

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