UAV Storm Chaser Team Completes First RC Flight Test

Vipul Telang/The Avion Newspaper
A sUAS flies over the soccer fields behind the Student Village during a test flight.

Kelsey Klein/Correspondent

On Nov. 17, the UAV Storm Chasers team completed their first Remote Controlled (RC) flight to kick off a series of test for their Capstone Project.

The team is one of five teams within Embry-Riddle’s Electrical, Computer, Software, and Systems Engineering (ECSSE) Capstone Class. The course is a two-semester class that provides students, who are in their final year, with project experience similar to what they will experience in their field of work. This year, Dr. Massood Towhidnejad and Dr. Eduardo Rojas are the instructors for the class. At the beginning of the semester, projects were proposed to them by other Embry-Riddle faculty members, and from that list, they chose the most pertinent ones for the class.

One of the projects presented this year was the UAV Storm Chasers project, by Leo Ghelarducci. This project addresses the life-threatening and high-cost aspects of the current technique used to obtain weather measurements in severe storms, such as hurricanes. As of today, a pilot has to fly directly into the eye of the storm to release a dropsonde. The dropsonde collects a variety of measurements from the storm and relays the information back to the plane, as it drops into the ocean where it degrades over time.

The goal of the project is to develop a new method to safely and cost-effectively obtain severe storm measurements. Two quad-rotors are being built and designed to fly autonomously on the outer rim of the storm. The unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will link together to communicate and coordinate their flight path. A new circuit board is also being designed to allow for a lighter and more cost-effective storm measurement unit that can be integrated with the UAVs. It can measure the temperature, humidity, pressure and wind vectors of storms. All the data will be transmitted to a local ground station.

Seven students were chosen to work on this project. They were selected based on their major, experience and desire to work on the project. The team has a strong dynamic that has contributed to reaching many important milestones so far, with the RC flight being one of them.

The RC flight was used to demonstrate all of the communication components of the UAV linking together properly, to calibrate the motors and motor controller, to get flight time, and to go through the process of setting up all of the parameters in mission planner. The flight was a huge success and a major step to achieving the next task, to fly autonomously.

As the end of the semester and midway point for the project approaches, the team can reflect on the strong progress made this semester. In addition to the RC flight, the team has made data maps for the weather sensors, developed the ground station, and designed the weather measurement unit. All of these accomplishments were only possible with the support of the ECSSE department, Robotics Association, UAS Technology Club, Weather Center Lab, and Aerospace Engineering student Francisco Pastrana.

Up next for the team is a series of tests, starting with an autonomous flight. Many other tests of all of the necessary components will also take place to confirm their accuracy and precision before integrating everything together and performing the final tests. The final series of tests will be in a local storm to provide data on the communication and flight of the UAVs in severe weather and data from the weather measurement unit.