NASA is bringing better weather information to pilots and forecasters with the help of airborne sensors installed on a fleet of commuter airliners. A team led by researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va., designed, built and equipped dozens of Mesaba Airlines aircraft with the Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report (TAMDAR) instrument. The TAMDAR sensor allows aircraft flying below 25,000 feet to automatically sense and report atmospheric conditions. Observations are sent by satellite to a ground data center. The center processes and distributes up-to-date weather information to forecasters, pilots and those who brief pilots.
The TAMDAR instrument was developed by the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Atlanta, and AirDat, L.L.C., Morrisville, N.C., for NASA’s Aviation Safety and Security Program. The TAMDAR is compact and weighs only 1.5 pounds. The instrument measures humidity, winds, pressure, temperature, icing and turbulence with the help of location, time and altitude provided by built-in Global Positioning System technology. Large airliners fly above most weather and collect limited atmospheric data. When equipped with the TAMDAR sensor, regional aircraft, which typically fly below 25,000 feet, will provide more information to weather forecasters and the aviation community.
The data the team collects could also benefit all weather forecasts and weather forecasting models, because it increases the number of observations in the lower atmosphere. There are only 90 weather balloon sites nationwide used to collect temperature, wind and moisture data from twice-daily atmospheric soundings.
The program’s goal is to develop technologies to help reduce the fatal aircraft accident rate, protect air travelers and the public from security threats.