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Grand Sky to Bring Nation’s First State-Wide Micro-Weather Services to North Dakota

Commercial and military drone operators unnecessarily cancel or delay an estimated 30 percent of all drone flights.

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The primary cause: inaccurate weather and wind hazard predictions based on a dearth of real time low altitude weather data. Grand Sky, a commercial uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) park located in Grand Forks, North Dakota plans to change that. Grand Sky is home to Vantis, a new mission and network operations center for the state-wide beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) system in North Dakota. Grand Sky has partnered with TruWeather Solutionsa US micro-weather data and analytics company and Switzerland-based Meteomatics to launch the nation’s first state-wide micro-weather services to fill this critical weather data gap and increase flight time.

Existing weather models mainly depend on weather data from weather satellites, pilot observations, surface observations and weather balloons to produce weather predictions. Despite significant advancements in weather data science and numerical weather prediction, the current observation network provides insufficient information from the Earth’s surface to approximately 5,000 feet above ground level (Earth’s boundary layer). This is the exact flight envelope in which a majority of small and medium size UAS will fly routinely and large UAS must pass through on their way to higher altitudes.

Weather satellites have contributed the most to improving weather predictions in the last 20 years. Even though satellite measurements have increased in density, a data desert still exists in the boundary layer. There are just not enough satellites producing the required quality of data. For example, government funded polar north-south Low Earth Orbiting (LEO) satellites provide accurate atmospheric profiles to the Earth’ surface. Unfortunately, they only observe the same spot several times a day. This temporal gap detracts from otherwise high-quality microwave-based measurements.

In contrast, Geosynchronous Equatorial Orbit (GEO), or geostationary satellites, orbit 22,000 miles above the equator. They continuously focus on the same locations on the Earth, updating measurements every 5 minutes. However, the sensor signals from these degrade as they penetrate the moist atmosphere. This produces low quality measurements in the boundary layer.

According to TruWeather’s CEO, Don Berchoff, a retired US Air Force Colonel and former National Weather Service Science and Technology Director, safe and efficient beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) drone operations, in particular, depend on accurate weather measurements for routine, reliable flight.

“The lack of real time weather measurements causes uncertainty in what is happening now, and what may happen. Companies may attempt BVLOS operations when they shouldn’t or perhaps worse, stay on the ground when they could be flying. Their decisions need to account for a range of anticipated conditions, such as low clouds, visibility, low level winds, wind shear, freezing fog or drizzle and icing. They need better information to avoid delaying or canceling flights when they could have flown safely,” Berchoff said.

The roll out of advanced micro-weather services with Grand Sky will change the game in North Dakota and beyond. The partners will deploy a Meteodrone, the first weather drone launched by a commercial entity in the United States to support routine aviation operations. The specially equipped drone will measure hyper-accurate and exact real time micro-weather readings, including humidity, barometric pressure, and winds above the Earth’s surface.

Meteomatics created a six-rotor electric vertical take-off-and-landing (eVTOL) UAS to specifically carry science-quality weather sensors to improve weather models. The drone has a heated rotor system design to prevent propeller icing. This enables flight operations in places like North Dakota, where icing in clouds and winds introduce flight risk.

According to Tom Swoyer, President of Grand Sky, “Meteodrone is perfect to support operations at Grand Sky. Its all weather capability will help us with safe BVLOS operations. We fly BVLOS operations every day from Grand Sky and this will help us increase our ops tempo.”

The partners will strategically locate the first Meteodrone at Grand Sky to support its 5,600 square mile FAA-approved BVLOS area. The drone can fly up to 16,900 feet above ground level every 90 minutes. It will begin flying this fall to a flight level of 10,000 feet, with the goal of reaching maximum flight levels, pending FAA approval. The drone will uncover invisible wind and icing phenomena and improve predictions in and around Grand Forks Air Force Base and points eastward.

Swoyer explained, “Our collaboration with TruWeather Solutions and Meteomatics will produce a 1km resolution weather model, a level nine times more granular than even the best available government or commercial services. thesis Forecasts will safely increase the number of flight operations by reducing weather-related cancellations. For our commercial partners, this means more revenue. For military colleagues, this equates to greater on-time on-target mission accomplishment.”

The state-wide weather modeling system will go live in early October, with a series of related events to be held in conjunction with the 16th Annual UAS Summit and Expo. The event serves as a major gathering for UAS experts from around the world in Grand Forks, “the Silicon Valley of Drones” and original epicenter of drone research.

“Bringing this unmatched weather technology and service to North Dakota will have major impacts in the state, and the world, in terms of operational predictability and reliability for commercial and government drone activities,” said Swoyer.

Read more about TruWeather and Grand Sky:

Dawn MK Zoldi (Colonel, USAF, Retired) is a licensed attorney with 28 years of combined active duty military and federal civil service to the US Air Force. She is the CEO & Founder of P3 Tech Consulting and an internationally recognized expert on uncrewed aircraft system law and policy. Zoldi contributes to several magazines and hosts popular tech podcasts. Zoldi is also an Adjunct Professor for two universities, at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In 2022, she received the Airwards People’s Choice Industry Impactor Award, was recognized as one of the Top Women to Follow on LinkedIn and listed in the eVTOL Insights 2022 PowerBook. For more information, follow her on social media and visit her website at: https://www.p3techconsulting.com.

Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has penned over 3,000 articles focused on the commercial drone space and is an international speaker and recognized figure in the industry. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
For drone industry consulting or writing, Email Miriam.

TWITTER: @spaldingbarker

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