Up in the air: Grand Sky’s new drone collects important real-time weather data for UAS flights
"Meteodrone" will collect real-time micro weather data, benefit Grand Forks' UAS sector by reducing number of cancelled flights
EMERADO, N.D. – Local politicians, defense personnel and industry leaders in the field of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), gathered to celebrate Grand Sky Business and Aviation Park’s acquisition of a new weather data collection drone, during a ceremony on Tuesday.
The device, called the “meteodrone,” will fly between 16-18 times daily collecting real time weather data. Its implementation is a collaborative effort between two weather technology firms — Meteomatics, a Swiss-based weather technology firm that manufactures the meteodrone, and True Weather Solutions, which provides the software that operates the drone.
The drone will take micro weather readings critical to operating UAS devices safely — such as humidity, barometric pressure and wind speed.
U.S. Sen. John Hoeven — who called the Grand Forks region the “premier center for UAS development in the world” — cited partnerships such as the one between Grand Sky and the aforementioned companies as evidence of the region’s dynamism.
“The amount of momentum we have is incredible,” Hoeven said. “It’s because we’ve worked constantly to build partnerships, and create firsts in the nation. That’s what we’re celebrating here today — more partners and more firsts.”
Hoeven said he is petitioning the FAA to allow unmanned aircraft like the meteodrone, to be operated at altitudes up to 16,900 feet in order to collect more extensive weather data. At present, the FAA permits a maximum altitude of 9,000 feet.
According to Hoeven, such authorization would be mutually beneficial for Grand Forks’ UAS sector and the FAA.
“Those authorities we get from the FAA helps them too,” Hoeven said. “The FAA is always running a little bit behind trying to catch up with innovation and technology, and we help them catch up. The country benefits from that, from the work that you do in the Grand Forks region.”
Tom Swoyer, president of Grand Sky, said a major advantage of the meteodrone is that it provides real-time weather information, rather than simply modeling and forecasting.
“What I’ve been taught is, I don’t really care what’s showing up on the ground,” said Swoyer. “I care about what’s happening at 3,000, 10,000 and 20,000 feet. That’s where the rubber hits the road, where those aircraft are heading. As we fly more and more, and get more complex flight operations going, we need this data.”
Don Berchoff, CEO and co-founder of True Weather Solutions, said the meteodrone’s technology will reduce the number of flights canceled due to weather. He said that 30% of all flights currently canceled due to weather could proceed with more accurate data.
“They don’t fly because of the uncertainty, because we don’t have data between the surface and 5,000 feet,” he said. “That’s what we’re going after here. Our job is to help you all be successful, to fly safely in 100% of weather tolerant windows."
Brad Guay, meteorologist at Meteomatics, said the creation of the meteodrone was borne out of a lack of real-time weather data, and the limitations it imposes on flight.
“This is something that’s the culmination of about a decade of research,” he said. “It started with the vision of a frustrated pilot — our CEO and a meteorologist himself — who was sitting on the ground and wondering ‘why can’t I take off? Why have I mispredicted this fog?’ He realized we need better micro weather information to support both traditional aviation and also increasing levels of autonomy in our society.”