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OSU Students Developing Drones For Measuring Tornadoes

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Aerospace engineering students at Oklahoma State University are working to develop an unmanned storm penetrating plane that could give forecasters valuable information. Aerospace engineering students at Oklahoma State University are working to develop an unmanned storm penetrating plane that could give forecasters valuable information.
For about a year, OSU students have been working on designs for an unmanned aircraft that could fly above and around storms, gathering data. For about a year, OSU students have been working on designs for an unmanned aircraft that could fly above and around storms, gathering data.
The unmanned planes would be made of fiberglass and carbon composites, but reinforced with Kevlar. The unmanned planes would be made of fiberglass and carbon composites, but reinforced with Kevlar.
"It's penetrating storms that have potential of developing tornadoes and taking vital meteorological measurements to see how these storms are going to form," said OSU professor Jamey Jacob. "It's penetrating storms that have potential of developing tornadoes and taking vital meteorological measurements to see how these storms are going to form," said OSU professor Jamey Jacob.
STILLWATER, Oklahoma -

Research is underway that could protect all of us from tornadoes.

Aerospace engineering students at Oklahoma State University are working to develop an unmanned storm penetrating plane that could give forecasters valuable information. That could mean earlier warnings for people in the path of a tornado.

For about a year, OSU students have been working on designs for an unmanned aircraft that could fly above and around storms, gathering data.

"It's penetrating storms that have potential of developing tornadoes and taking vital meteorological measurements to see how these storms are going to form," said OSU professor Jamey Jacob.

The unmanned planes would be made of fiberglass and carbon composites, but reinforced with Kevlar. They would be equipped with cameras that provide real-time images, but also have infrared and ultraviolet capabilities.

5/17/2013 Related Story: OSU Students Design Storm-Penetrating Drones

"Primarily, you're going to have temperature sensors, pressure sensors and humidity sensors, those are the three things you really want to really be able to measure," Jacob said.

He said such a plane would be useful during dangerous and deadly storms like the ones that hit Oklahoma last week.

The planes could even drop packages, with sensors and parachutes, above a storm, to gather information.

"Anything we can do to increase the amount of data that we have that goes into these models, really has the potential to save lives down the road," Jacob said.

Unmanned aircraft have a number of uses, including for the military, wildfire surveillance, border security, and in the agriculture and energy industries.

The biggest challenge for using one for severe weather, is the FAA requires flight plan permission in advance. With the unpredictability of severe storms, that could make it hard to be in the right airspace at the right time.

"A storm is essentially a loaded gun, but you don't necessarily know when and where it's going to fire," Jacob said.

Assuming regulatory hurdles can be resolved, Jacob thinks the technology is there for an unmanned storm penetrating aircraft to be developed, with a prototype about a year away.

Unmanned aircraft with thermal imaging and sensitive microphones could even be used over debris piles, to see or hear survivors trapped in the rubble.

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