Development and Deployment of Air-Launched Drifters from Small UAS

Sara Swenson, Brian Argrow, Eric Frew, Steve Borenstein, Jason Keeler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Supercell thunderstorms can form extremely dangerous and destructive tornadoes. While high fidelity supercell simulations have increased the understanding of supercell mechanics to help determine how and when tornadoes form, there is a lack of targeted, in situ measurements taken aboveground in supercells to validate these simulations. Pseudo-Lagrangian drifters (PLDs) are atmospheric probes that can be used to attain thermodynamic measurements in areas that are difficult or dangerous to access, such as from within supercells. Of particular interest in understanding tornadogenesis is the rear-flank downdraft (RFD). However, strong outflow winds behind the rear-flank gust front (RFGF) make the RFD particularly difficult to access with balloon-borne sensors launched from the ground. A specific type of PLD, an air-launched drifter (ALD) that is released from unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), can be used to access RFD inflows, present at higher altitudes. Results from initial tests of ALDs are shown, along with results from a ground-released PLD test during a supercell intercept in the Oklahoma Panhandle on 12 June 2018. In characterization tests performed at the 2018 International Society for Atmospheric Research using Remotely piloted Aircraft (ISARRA) flight week, it was found that the ALD sensor system performs reasonably well against industry standards. However, improvements will be made to increase the aspiration of the sensor.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSensors (Switzerland)
Issue number9
StatePublished - May 9 2019


  • UAS
  • airborne measurement technology
  • atmospheric physics
  • meteorology
  • unmanned research aircraft


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