Having TruWeather as an Integral Team Member Pays Dividends for NUAIR
Gary Graeff, TruWeather Solutions Operations Manager
I personally started working with NUAIR and the consortium of drone industry partners at the New York Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) Test Site Corridor in April. During that time, I spent many hours identifying and learning the weather pain points affecting the UAS industry and demonstrating how targeted weather data and services can improve mission effectiveness, as well as save time and money.
TruWeather supports all important flight activities in the test range and with the variety of customers we support, it is clear they need timely, specific, and accurate weather information. There are many types of drones with varying weather sensitivities that require tailored weather services. UAS are very weather sensitive as compared to larger, manned aircraft. Our customers require micro weather forecasts for wind speeds at the surface and above ground, cloud heights, visibility, and rainfall to make sound decisions on whether to fly or do office work. After all, when it comes to any operation, our mission is to reduce the chance of incident, protect our customer’s assets and save them time and money. If we can prevent someone from showing up to the test site just to sit and watch it rain, then we have done our job well. Occasionally, customers have few options as to when they can perform a test. If there are breaks in the weather on the days they have available, then we need to find them.
On one such occasion, NUAIR and its partners were planning on testing multiple capabilities in downtown Rome, NY over a farmer’s market taking place just outside of City Hall. The scenario was simulating multiple unauthorized drone and manned aircraft approaches while authorized drones were performing surveillance and simulating the delivery of medical supplies. The scenario was set up to test a Remote ID and an Airborne Collision and Avoidance System (ACAS.) Testing of obstruction avoidance technology was also on the docket by flying around light poles and other obstacles. A local police officer was also on-hand to determine whether he could acquire the ID of an intruder drone approaching the market using an app on his phone. The scenario validated the Gryphon R1400 sensor capability to track drone activity via radar. Amazingly, all of this tracked from a temporary ground control station. This was an important milestone for the test range with tight timelines to meet milestones and objectives. Long story short, it was a big day indeed with a weather threat looming.
The market occurred on Wednesdays and only one other alternate day to fly was available. From six days prior to the event, I started focusing on the mission when sending out our daily MissionCast product. I already knew that it was not going to be a cut and dry forecast, especially the dry part. Many drones are still not watertight and designed to fly in precipitation. Any rainfall would mean no flying. An entire mobile mission control center had to be set up inside City Hall and of course, if rain cancelled the flying, setting up the center would waste time and money. As we got closer to the event, I had relayed to NUAIR a recommendation to consider starting earlier than planned as an area of steady rain and embedded thunderstorms would be moving in from the Southwest. They evaluated the mission plan, and our weather input, and determined there was enough time to complete the scenario, and thus gave the green light.
Since this was a high visibility mission and the weather looked like it may impinge on their timeline, I deployed onsite to give them the most up-to-date information in real-time. During the morning brief, the onset of rainfall was forecast to begin between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. To complete all testing, they had to start immediately. Mission control was rather busy throughout the day with flights taking off without a hitch. It was somewhere around 11:30 a.m. when they asked if they would have time to take lunch. As I was eating my panini from one of the food trucks parked just outside, I replied that they better press on as the leading edge of rain would be here in two hours and reminded them that they did not want to pin their hopes on the following Wednesday as the long-range forecast was dicey. I’ve been in a lot of pressure-packed forecasting situations during my ten years in the Air Force, but I’ve learned that when you recommend to work through a meal, the forecast better be correct!
Rain was not the only concern of the day as the possibility of thunderstorms producing outflow wind boundaries were a threat. We have seen through experience that lightweight drones do not like sudden wind gusts. So, constant radar interrogation was conducted to stay ahead of this threat and to practice sound lightning safety. Luckily, the showers remained below thresholds for lightning generation and the green light remained on to proceed, even as some operators could see rain shafts off in the distance. At about 12:45 p.m., I began to give a countdown to the arrival of rain. With no lightning or wind gusts threatening, a final 10-minute call was made at 1:30 p.m. and the team quickly wrapped everything up and got inside just before rain fell ten minutes later. Nailed it, and most importantly, lunch was not cancelled for sunshine!
The entire process was a rewarding one, as what TruWeather has been espousing about use of weather intelligence worked as it should. We knew well in advance that this project was coming up and what it entailed. Communication between TruWeather Solutions and NUAIR on the forecast started early and often. NUAIR took our advice during the planning and all through the execution phase, and not only did the collaboration work out perfectly, they got all the testing completed just before the rain began. To quote Tony Basile, Chief Operations Officer for NUAIR, it was a “play at the plate!” Exciting indeed!