Home Again!

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The last day of the campaign (Friday), was again very windy and foggy, and we decided to spend the day packing up our equipment. It’s amazing how long it takes to pack up such a small amount of stuff! After packing was complete, I took some time to take a look at the AMF3 instrumentation from the rooftop before dinner. After finishing our last meal at the Long Range Radar Station, Hans, Jack and I loaded up our truck and completed the 2-hour drive back to Deadhorse. Although our flight wasn’t departing until 937 the next morning, the forecast was calling for wind, snow and freezing rain, and I think leaving the evening before was the right decision.

Packing up our crate to go home -- 3D puzzles, anyone?

Packing up our crate to go home — 3D puzzles, anyone?

Oliktok Point as seen from the roof of the AMF3 shelters.

Oliktok Point as seen from the roof of the AMF3 shelters.

 

In total, we were able to complete 30 flights over the nine days we had to fly (map below). During these flights, we learned a lot about our equipment and our operational limitations, and after we dig into the dataset, I think we should also gain some insight into lower-atmospheric processes at high latitudes. With some achievable equipment modifications, I’m optimistic that the next time will feature even more flights, more measurements, and more science! Certainly, the conditions were challenging, but this is true for most Arctic observational missions and we must adapt our platforms to meet those challenges. I’m already looking forward to returning in April for the ERASMUS (Evaluation of Routine Atmospheric Sounding Measurements using Unmanned Systems) campaign! Until then…

A map showing the flight tracks of the 30 DataHawk flights completed during COALA.

A map showing the flight tracks of the 30 DataHawk flights completed during COALA.

The Arctic Sun

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This morning I was optimistic – the wind was way down, and for the first time since we arrived nearly two weeks ago, we saw the sun. By all accounts, it looked like it was going to be a good day for flying. Jack and I headed out around 930 this morning (right at sunrise!) to start our preparations and try to take advantage of the calmer day. Unfortunately for us, the good weather did not last long – winds kicked up briefly this morning, but the bigger problem was low cloud cover, fog and snowfall rolling in for much of the middle of the day. At this time of year, the influence of the Arctic Ocean is never out of reach, and the interface between cold air and a substantial source of water vapor from the open ocean surface can result in what we have been calling “soupy” conditions.

The Arctic sun -- it does exist!

The Arctic sun — it does exist!

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A panorama looking east from Oliktok Point at sunrise. Note the contrast between the “soupy”, cloud-covered air over the Arctic Ocean, and the crisp, clean air to the south.

 

In the afternoon, things started looking up, however, and we decided to switch things up a bit, and take the Kubota track vehicle (a.k.a. the tundra buggy) out to the beach near the Air Force facility to get some flight legs in over the sea surface. This area is becoming more and more ice covered and it won’t be long before it is frozen solid. We’ve had some good flight time over this near shore environment, and hope that a thorough analysis of the measurements collected will result in interesting findings.

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A panorama of the near-shore ice environment at the beach.

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Another view of the near-shore sea ice.

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Operations headquarters for this afternoon. One of the beautiful things about operating the DataHawks is how little equipment is required!

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Jack and I prepare for launch at the beach. Note the tethered balloon system flying at the end of the runway in the background!

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Jack keeps a watchful eye on the DataHawk as it passes by at 20 meters altitude over the sea ice. The small spec in the middle of the photograph is the airplane!

 

Tomorrow is our last day of operations up here. The forecast is calling for light winds, with a good chance for precipitation. We’ll have to see how conditions are for flying, but I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to get some last flights in before having to pack up our equipment for the return trip to Boulder. So far, it’s been great being up here – we have nearly 30 flights under our belts since arriving and have collected a substantial amount of data. Beyond this, we’ve learned quite a bit about our equipment, what we would do differently next time, and what our limitations are. To me, it’s been a very successful trip!

A brief window

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This morning the wind was unrelenting and several folks at breakfast were unconvinced that it would let up at all today. However, I was holding on to some hope that we’d get some flights in, mostly due to something I’d seen on the first weather forecast I picked last night, which showed the winds beginning to back off around 10 am. After heading out to the AMF to do some work and ensure all batteries were charged and systems were ready to go, I checked on the windspeed… 10 meters per second – too high to fly our DataHawk. After about an hour at the facility (at exactly 10 am!) I noticed that the orange markers outside of the door were no longer being blown around and went back to the weather display.  I was thrilled to see that the wind had dropped to around 5 meters per second! At this point I raced back to the Air Force facility to alert Jack that it was time to fly!

The weather display inside the Air Force station this morning.  It wasn't looking good!

The weather display inside the Air Force station this morning. It wasn’t looking good!

 

In total, we got four solid flights in, mostly flown by the autopilot, and collected a substantial amount of data. It was the first time in quite a while that Jack was able to put his hands in his pockets while the plane was flying – the recent high winds and fog had forced him to keep them close to the controls at all times in order to take control of the aircraft if things went south (or given the wind direction, more likely west).  He even managed to snap some photos of the aircraft in flight as it passed by his location!  In addition to our flights, the Sandia and Penn State team got the tethered balloon system back in the air as well, sending the balloon all the way up to 300 meters! At around 3:00 pm, the winds kicked back up, and were accompanied by snow and fog so we halted our operations for the rest of the day.

With low winds, the autopilot did most of the flying this afternoon, which allowed Jack to take this photo.  If you squint, you can see the DataHawk buzzing by at 15 meters above ground level!

With low winds, the autopilot did most of the flying this afternoon, which allowed Jack to take this photo. If you squint, near the center of the screen you can see the DataHawk buzzing by at 15 meters above ground level!

 

One neat feature in the data from today’s flights – for a while I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to map the surface that we’re flying over at any particular time. I’d always imagined that the sensors which give the autopilot information on whether the aircraft is level – the ones that had given us so much grief in foggy and cloudy conditions – might provide a solution to this problem, as they’re effectively measuring (qualitatively) the surface temperature. Well, for some of today’s flights, we performed very low level (~15-20 meters) extended legs from well over the land surface to an area of open water offshore. The signal from the downward looking thermopile (aircraft orientation) sensor is shown by the colored circles in the figure below. It very clearly illustrates some of the surface inhomogeneity, both over land and offshore. Notable features include the runway (lighter blue dots), which is darker and therefore a little warmer than the snow covered surface around it, the ice covered ponds to the southwest of the hangar and north of the runway. Additionally, this sensor clearly shows the transition from colder temperatures (blue colors) on land, slightly warmer temperatures in a region of thin, shore-fast ice along the coast (green colors) and even warmer temperatures when reaching the open water at the most northerly portion of our flight (red colors). Being able to separate these features is important because it allows us to sort the atmospheric measurements as a function of the surface type directly beneath them. Fun stuff!

Relative surface temperature, as mapped by our downward-looking infrared aircraft attitude sensor.  Note the open water (red colors offshore), sea ice region (light blue/green colors offshore) and the impact of the runway and pond regions (light blue colors -- see satellite image below for reference) on surface temperature.

Relative surface temperature, as mapped by our downward-looking infrared aircraft attitude sensor. Note the open water (red colors offshore), sea ice region (light blue/green colors offshore) and the impact of the runway and pond regions (light blue colors — see satellite image below for reference) on surface temperature.

A (non-current) satellite image of the Oliktok Point facility.  If you match this figure with the one directly above, you will be able to note some of the on-shore features that result in warmer surface temperatures.

A (non-current) satellite image of the Oliktok Point facility. If you match this figure with the one directly above, you will be able to note some of the on-shore features that result in warmer surface temperatures.

Indoor day

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For the last few days, I’ve been saying that Tuesday was not going to be a good day for flying, and that came true. With high winds and no icing, we can try to fly, and with icing conditions and low winds, we’re happy to test our equipment. But when there are high winds (~25 mph) and accumulating ice fog – forget about it. In some ways, no-fly days like this are good to have, as they provide us with a chance to go through our data, work on writing software to perform data analysis, and catch up on all of the other work that takes a backseat during the campaign. Just as importantly, it gives us a chance to do normal things like laundry – at two workouts per day, all I can say is that my gear was ready to be washed!

A grey, icy day at Oliktok.

A grey, icy day at Oliktok.

Al Bendure prepares a small balloon in the hangar.

Al Bendure prepares a small balloon in the hangar.

 

Now, about that ice fog – it really does a number on your instruments. We had left our weather vane sitting out on the tripod overnight to gather an extended dataset, but this morning, none of the measurements were making any sense. When we went out to inspect the vane, we realized why this was. The entire thing was coated in quite a bit of ice! The pitot tube was completely clogged, the cold-wire sensor shroud was totally iced over, the thermopile sensors were covered, and the accumulation of ice all over the vane body had thrown off the balance of the device. This instrument was never specifically designed for Arctic operation but seeing it coated in ice does provide a stark reminder of the challenges faced when trying to make measurements up here!

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Ice buildup (nearly 1" thick) on the tripod.

Ice buildup (nearly 1″ thick) on the tripod.

An ice-covered cold wire shroud and wind vane body.

An ice-covered cold wire shroud and wind vane body.

The winds should back off by tomorrow afternoon and we’ll be ready to go at that point to fly as many hours as we can in our few remaining days up here.

If it isn’t one thing…

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That title probably sounds somewhat negative, but ultimately, this was a pretty positive day up here on the North Slope. I’ve made a routine of checking the weather display at the Air Force facility every night before going to bed, and every morning when I get done with my morning workout. At first glance, things did not look good – the forecast called for winds in the 20-25 mph range, and the weather station was confirming this both last night and early this morning. Since daylight doesn’t really appear until 0845 or so in the morning, breakfast around here tends to be a somewhat drawn out thing, with general discussion about plans for the day and the rest of the week. After this discussion this morning, I decided I’d take another look at the winds, and was shocked to see that they had dropped substantially and were holding steady at around 12 mph. This turned a “no way in H-E-double hockey sticks are we flying today” day into a “things are looking pretty good” day. So, Jack and I headed out and decided we’d change things up a bit and operate from one of our pickup trucks, parked at the end of the long runway. When we got out there, however, we realized that we’d be up against a very different obstacle today, as everything we saw (including our truck) was coated in a relatively thick coating of ice.

Ice accumulation on the orange sticks used to mark the edge of the gravel runway area and the stairs leading into the AMF3.

Ice accumulation on the orange sticks used to mark the edge of the gravel runway area and the stairs leading into the AMF3.

Ice buildup on blades of grass at the end of the runway.

Ice buildup on blades of grass at the end of the runway.

Ice accumulation on our truck while it was parked at the end of the runway.

Ice accumulation on our truck while it was parked at the end of the runway.

 

For those not really familiar with airplanes and ice, it’s sufficient to say that the two generally don’t mix. While large manned aircraft have enough power to carry power-hungry and heavy de-icing equipment, small (and most large) unmanned aircraft are not equipped with such systems and icing conditions have been one of my biggest concerns with operating up here in Northern Alaska. So, you may be surprised that I was thrilled by the prospect of testing our abilities in these conditions! To this version of the DataHawk, the ice really poses four main threats. First, ice accumulation on the leading edge of the wing could alter the aerodynamic properties of the airframe and result in a reduced ability of the wing to lift the aircraft and keep it flying. Secondly, such ice accumulation can add weight to the aircraft, and the DataHawk doesn’t exactly have a lot of extra carrying capacity or room for shifts in the center of gravity of the aircraft mass. Third, icing could plug or alter the Pitot tube – the device that measures the speed of the aircraft relative to the surrounding air – resulting in the autopilot not knowing how fast it is moving relative to the air around it and potential loss of control. Finally, since this version of the DataHawk relies on a series of thermopile sensors to maintain level flight, ice accumulation on these sensors could confuse the autopilot and result in in-flight upset.

 

Without going into the gory details, I can say that we completed six flights in somewhat heavy icing conditions, including ice fog. At the end of the day, we still have both of our aircraft, both are in tact and ready to fly tomorrow, and we learned quite a bit about where the issues may lie when it comes to operating the DataHawk in such an environment. Generally, the icing of the Pitot tube seems to be the biggest concern. Additionally icing of the thermopile sensors does seem to cause a problem, though this will disappear with the next version of the aircraft since that version will feature an inertial measurement unit (IMU) and will no longer be dependent on thermopiles for maintaining level flight. Of the six flights completed, only our last flight resulted in some ice accumulation on the leading edge of the wing, the extent to which this impacted flight was not clear. Jack was able to bring the airplane in for a smooth landing and it seemed to behave as it should on the way down.

A map of today's flights to test the impact of icing on aircraft performance.  As you can tell, our two main points of operation were at the south/west end of the runway and right outside the AMF trailers.

A map of today’s flights to test the impact of icing on aircraft performance. As you can tell, our two main points of operation were at the south/west end of the runway and right outside the AMF trailers.

 

While today’s conditions did not allow us to make extended science flights, these flight hours are very valuable in that they give me confidence that we can operate in less than ideal conditions if necessary and/or desirable. The threat of icing should disappear tomorrow, though winds are forecast to kick back up into the 20-25 mph range. Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday still appear to be our best days for extended flight operations, and I’m looking forward to a lot of DataHawk launches (DataHawk Launch Video) during those days! The Sandia/PSU team had the tethered balloon system out today and we’re working on initial comparisons between the two sensor packages. Lots to do up here!

The tethersonde in action at the end of the runway.  The Sandia/PSU team took the balloon up to 200 meters today, and lifted instruments to make measurements of aerosols, temperature, humidity, pressure and winds.

The tethersonde in action at the end of the runway. The Sandia/PSU team took the balloon up to 200 meters today, and lifted instruments to make measurements of aerosols, temperature, humidity, pressure and winds.

Reflections at the halfway point

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Today was the halfway point in the COALA campaign. As is likely obvious from earlier posts, the wind and weather have limited our operations and this has been somewhat disappointing. Jack and I have been trying very hard to complete flights in the sub-optimal conditions, but ultimately, we’ve come to the conclusion that we’re at the limit of our equipment. That’s not to say that we’ve been sitting around twiddling our thumbs – in fact, every day has been quite busy. In addition, the aircraft haven’t exactly been kept in storage either, as we routinely take them out and put them through their paces, as demonstrated by the map below.

A summary figure showing the combined tracks of all of the flights completed over the first half of the campaign.

A summary figure showing the combined tracks of all of the flights completed over the first half of the campaign.

 

Instead of going on about conditions, I wanted to share some more information about life at the Oliktok Point facility. The Air Force facility can best be described as something between the inside of a ship and a college dormitory. The rooms are generally single rooms, and in addition, there are a couple of bathrooms, two common areas, and an industrial kitchen. All things having to do with meals are taken care of, with lunch and dinner prepared daily, snacks openly available, and dishes cleaned. I will say that this makes it very easy to focus on science and work! Coming from Boulder, which quite possibly has the highest ratio of Whole Foods (and Sprouts, and Alfalfa’s, etc.) to residents in the country, the food isn’t quite as fresh and natural as I’m used to, but the Station Manager does his best with the food that makes it up here and meals are pretty good! Finally, as I mentioned earlier, there is a room with exercise equipment and we’ve been sure to take advantage. Every night, Jack and I have spent an hour on either the recline-a-bike or the elliptical runner. Neither of these are devices I would normally use, but given that going for a run on the beach is not an option, it’s the best we have. Between football games on the TV (there are limited satellite channels), books, and papers, the hour generally passes relatively quickly. Having said that, I’m definitely looking forward to getting back to Boulder and completing a few more bike rides before winter hits Colorado!  All in all, life up here is not too bad, and it’s easy to focus on the work we’re up here to do.

Finally, there has been a bit of turnover here – Scott Richardson (PSU) left yesterday and today was replaced by Hans Verlinde (also PSU). I’ve known Hans for quite some time through various scientific channels and look forward to some good discussions during our time up here. Additionally, some of the Air Force personnel are leaving at the end of their rotation, so more new faces will be here tomorrow.

 

Man vs. Elements vs. Machine

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This morning started as yesterday ended – blustery, snowing, and overcast. Despite the bleak weather, Jack and I headed out to the AMF3 to prepare for the day’s measurement activities. Optimistically, we prepared an aircraft for flight and headed out to fly. One of the things that make these small DataHawk aircraft unique is that in good weather conditions, they can essentially run their entire flight operation, from launch to landing. Unfortunately, in poor weather, as we’ve had the last couple of days things get more interesting and things devolve into a continuous struggle between man, machine and the elements. Because of this, the majority of our flights this morning involved takeoff, an attempted handoff to the autopilot, and then observing the autopilot struggle with the winds. Eventually, the winds would win, blow the aircraft off course, and Jack would take over and bring it back overhead. We likely went through that scenario about a half dozen times before shifting our focus.

This flight pattern was typical of our attempts to lock the autopilot in during high-wind conditions.  The dark spot in the bottom right of the figure is the hangar at Oliktok Point and its shadow, and the diagonal linear feature is the runway.

This flight pattern was typical of our attempts to lock the autopilot in during high-wind conditions. The dark spot in the bottom right of the figure is the hangar at Oliktok Point and its shadow, and the diagonal linear feature is the runway.

 

After stopping back at the Air Force facility for a weekend brunch, we headed out again and began to think of new strategies. We decided to set up our ground station in one of the trucks that we have access to, and operate from a shoreline area to allow for manually controlled flights over the near shore environment. I have to say that it felt really good to be flying and collecting data, instead of fighting with aircraft parts, autopilot issues or the winds. On the last flight of the day, we even had an Arctic fox stop by and check out the DataHawk. While this might seem neat, we’ve been told that we should assume that all of the foxes we encounter have rabies, so its elevated interest in our small airplane meant that we quickly landed the plane as close to us as possible, grabbed it, and got into the truck to drive away.

A panoramic view of the near-shore environment that we were sampling this afternoon.  On the right half of the image you can see the mix of sea ice and open water over which the DataHawk was flying.

A panoramic view of the near-shore environment that we were sampling this afternoon. On the right half of the image you can see the mix of sea ice and open water over which the DataHawk was flying.

The flight pattern for manually-flown legs over crossing the shoreline over ice and open water.  The facility seen on the right hand portion of the screen is the USAF facility where we are housed during operations here.

The flight pattern for manually-flown legs over crossing the shoreline over ice and open water. The facility seen on the right hand portion of the screen is the USAF facility where we are housed during operations here.

 

After dinner, we headed back out to the AMF3 in order to organize ourselves and perform some aircraft maintenance in preparation for better weather conditions. Optimistically, tomorrow should provide us with some additional flight opportunities, as winds are supposed to drop down into the 10-15 mph range. Hopefully the work we completed on the aircraft will make for smooth operations when the weather is favorable!

 

Wind, wind, go away!

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It was another windy day at Oliktok Point. The weather station readout is currently showing sustained values in the 20 mph range, with gusts to 35 mph. The top speed of the DataHawks that we have with us is around 40 mph, and as a general rule, flight gets dicey when winds are above 18 mph or so. The biggest concern with flying in heavy winds is not necessarily that the aircraft will be out of control, but rather that the motor would not be able to supply enough power to get the aircraft upwind. Despite the conditions, we did attempt some flights throughout the day, including three short-duration conditions evaluation flights, and one longer duration sampling flight. I should say that I have substantial trust in Jack’s piloting skills and he certainly earned his money today – despite the gusty winds, no hard landings and no lost DataHawks!

I'm getting pretty tired of the horizontal wind sock, but based on the forecast, that may not change anytime soon.

I’m getting pretty tired of the horizontal wind sock, but based on the forecast, that may not change anytime soon.

 

Our one successful data collection flight of the day was somewhat exciting because it took us out over the near-shore ocean environment. Currently, that region is a mix of open water, slush, and some larger pieces of ice. This sort of environment is exactly one of the things that we were hoping to sample with the DataHawk because of the challenges associated with making measurements over this surface with traditional instrumentation. It was somewhat painful knowing that perfect conditions were located right offshore, but that the wind was preventing us from exploring further! We are hoping that tomorrow and Sunday will provide additional opportunities to fly, even if it means that we have to increase the aircraft airspeed setting to be able to combat the winds.

The near shore ice environment we are looking to sample.

The near shore ice environment we are looking to sample.

 

Even with limited flights, days pass by really quickly up here. Part of this may be the rapidly reducing sunlight (we’re currently losing around 10 minutes of daylight per day!), but in general, there’s just a lot to do. So far, my daily routine has looked something like:
600: Wakeup and workout

700: Breakfast and e-mail

830: Head out to the AMF3 to get ready for flight activities

900-1145: Measurement operations

1200-1230: Lunch

1230-1645: Measurement operations

1700-1730: Dinner

1730- 1900: Data evaluation, review of daily operations, weather forecast

1900-2000: Workout

2030-2200: Work, blog, etc.

 

A relatively simple and repeatable, but very full, day to be sure!

 

First Flight!

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At first glance, this morning seemed to bring another uphill battle for getting a DataHawk into the sky. Overcast skies, light to moderate snow, and winds blowing at 15-25 mph forced us to turn our attention to the wind vane for our morning work. After some work on the vane and going through the required calibration, we headed out to a gravel area near the ARM 10 meter and 2 meter towers to set up an additional tripod that would hold both our wind vane and the sonic anemometer that Sandia National Lab brought along. As we were out setting up the tripod and ensuring our instruments were level, the precipitation started letting up, the clouds broke up a bit, and the winds came down enough that we were comfortable preparing for DataHawk flights!

Gijs and Scott work on setting up the tripod for the CU wind vane and Sandia sonic anemometer.

Gijs and Scott work on setting up the tripod for the CU wind vane and Sandia sonic anemometer.

 

For those not familiar with the DataHawk, the aircraft is launched using a bungee cord that propels it to a high enough speed to become airborne. It’s a fairly easy to use system, though it does require us to drive a stake into the ground. This is easier said than done when the ground is frozen solid! Fortunately, using a small but heavy mallet, we were able to get the bungee system secured, and after calibrating the aircraft we were ready for take off! This first flight went fantastically well, and, as it turns out, was our best flight of the day. After take off and a quick systems check overhead, we sent the DataHawk off to execute a racetrack pattern over the southwestern quadrant of the restricted airspace area. During this time, the wind was only slightly diminished (15-20 miles per hour), but the plane held its own and flew a beautifully executed flight.

A figure showing the coordinates of our first DataHawk flight for COALA.  The colors represent altitude (in meters) above the ground surface.

A figure showing the coordinates of our first DataHawk flight for COALA. The colors represent altitude (in meters) above the ground surface.

Jack keeps a watchful eye on the DataHawk while in flight.

Jack keeps a watchful eye on the DataHawk while in flight.

 

We were not the only folks taking advantage of the better weather – the team from Sandia National Lab also launched their tethered balloon system. This balloon is operated from a trailer and can carry a wide variety of instrumentation. Given the wind speeds, the balloon was limited to relatively low altitudes (~250 meters). Toward the end of our flight, we performed two profiles (up to 100 and 200 meters) to facilitate comparison between DataHawk and balloon measurements.

The Sandia team prepares to launch their tethered balloon system on the runway.

The Sandia team prepares to launch their tethered balloon system on the runway.

The tethered balloon system in flight.

The tethered balloon system in flight.

After a quick battery swap, we attempted to get some more flights in, but an increase in cloud cover and precipitation made aircraft calibration challenging, so our subsequent flights were limited in scope and duration. Given the latest weather forecast, it looks as though our next best opportunities for completing additional flight hours will be tomorrow morning and Saturday afternoon. The hours go by incredibly quickly when the DataHawk is flying (and less quickly when we’re grounded and awaiting better conditions), so I hope that the forecast holds true!

The DataHawk UAS and a summary of the day

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We spent today unpacking our crates, making sure that everything was in working order and setting up our ground station. The DOE ARM program has their third Mobile Facility (AMF3) set up here at Oliktok Point, and in addition to all of the instrumentation that is included with that facility there is some space for visiting scientists to operate their equipment. What that means for us is that we have shelter from the harsh Arctic environment, as well as a pretty nice area in which to do our work including tools, workbenches etc.

The ARM Mobile Facility, as seen from outside.

The ARM Mobile Facility, as seen from outside.

Our workspace within the AMF3.

Our workspace within the AMF3.

The aircraft that we are operating up here is pretty neat. In short, it is a small (1 meter wingspan), lightweight (~700 g), inexpensive (~$2000) plane that makes measurements of temperature, humidity, pressure and estimates wind speed. Designed by Professor Dale Lawrence in the University of Colorado Aerospace Engineering Department, the DataHawk has been deployed in several locations around the world. The aircraft is capable of flying autonomously from launch to landing, with an onboard autopilot and flight planning software doing the navigation. However, for safety reasons, it is important to have a pilot and an observer present when the aircraft is in the sky.

Our two DataHawk UAS sitting inside the AMF3.

Our two DataHawk UAS sitting inside the AMF3.

Unfortunately, with the small size and light weight of the DataHawk comes the tradeoff that high winds can ground this aircraft pretty easily. While the DataHawk is capable of flying at 15-18 meters per second relative to the surrounding air, sustained winds exceeding 8-10 meters per second make for somewhat dicey flying. After getting everything set up, we sat at that threshold all afternoon and in the end decided that we’d wait to conduct our first flight until tomorrow, when winds are forecast to decrease somewhat. In addition to two DataHawks, we also brought a windvane carrying one of the DataHawk sensor packages so that we can do some direct comparison with more traditional instrumentation and carry out this comparison in windy conditions. This windvane will sit on top of a 2-meter tall tower together with other instruments during the COALA campaign.  We did operate the wind vane for an extended time period today, and quickly found out that wind and snow will do a number on our cold-wire temperature sensors. These sensors include two very (6 micron) thin wires, and despite their protective shroud, these wires are no match for snowflakes moving sideways in the wind. Fortunately, Jack and I learned how to replace these delicate items before leaving Boulder, and since we were not able to fly, completed the repairs before heading back to the Air Force facility for the evening.

A view towards the Beaufort Sea from the AMF3.  A combination of wind (note the horizontal wind sock), overcast skies and snow made today not suitable for flying.

A view towards the Beaufort Sea from the AMF3. A combination of wind (note the horizontal wind sock), overcast skies and snow made today not suitable for flying.

 

Jack and our wind vane mounted to a tripod outside of the AMF3.

Jack and our wind vane mounted to a tripod outside of the AMF3.

Finally, our first day out at the facility did produce some wildlife encounters. No bears (fortunately), but we did see a bunch of caribou from a distance, and had a very curious Arctic fox exploring the area around the AMF3. We’re looking forward to flying tomorrow – hopefully the weather cooperates.

A curious Arctic fox explores the area around the AMF3.

A curious Arctic fox explores the area around the AMF3.