Robotic Aircraft

[Figure 1: DA42 layout]Our team has worked with Aurora Flight Sciences for the past 24 months in order to prepare their small fleet of DA42 aircraft for scientific research at low altitude. The DA42 is a twin-engine aircraft, certificated under the FAA for operations worldwide, and has several characteristics that make it an ideal platform for sustained tropospheric measurement campaigns. First, the aircraft is economical, with its electronically controlled turbo-diesels together consuming just 10 gallons of Jet –A fuel per hour (roughly half the rate of many light twins). Second, the DA42 is electrically and structurally well-adapted for carrying a sophisticated scientific payload, having ample spare power (1500 W) from its two alternators and ideally located hold points both in the nose and in the rear of the aircraft. The DA42 is pictured in Figure 1, including a sample payload consisting of the Anderson Group's Carbon Isotope measurement suite and a flux probe mounted on the nose provided by NOAA.

[Figure 2]The DA42 is considered an optionally piloted vehicle. That is, it can be operated both by a pilot in the conventional way, and also robotically, where it is controlled from the ground. Robotic operation holds the key for systemic long-term examination of large-scale processes including arctic methane release and ice sheet dynamics in Greenland. In addition to reducing the flight hour costs and crew requirements, the optionally piloted DA42 can fly 22 hours per day, as needed. Figure 2 illustrates the strategy of employing a robotically controlled DA42 equipped with ice-penetrating radar to methodically examine the thickness of the Greenland ice sheet as a function of area and time. Missions such as this require long term observations from sub-orbital platforms where reproducibility is assured by modern GPS systems.