Americas Civil Training

Tempest: The Tornado Chaser


The Tempest unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is designed for in-situ sensing in severe convective storms including supercell thunderstorms. The unmanned aircraft (UA) is launched under manual radio control, then is switched into a autonomous mode where it is monitored and commanded by a primary operator located at the ground control station (GCS), and by a secondary operator in the ground tracking vehicle (tracker).

The combination of an autopilot and onboard computer enables the UA to maintain an orbit over the tracker as its driver maneuvers beneath the region of interest of the evolving storm cell. The secondary operator in the tracker can issue a limited set of commands to move the orbit point relative to the tracker to position the UA for best visibility for the UA observer riding in the tracker. This ensures that flight operations are conducted according to FAA’s requirements to keep the aircraft within a specified distance from a ground-based observer to provide airspace deconfliction, particularly with low-flying manned aircraft.

An overview of our system’s characteristics can be found on the Tempest website. To view results and videos from different flights, please view our flight testing page.

Platform Features

Wingspan 3.2 m (10.5 ft)
Weight 5.4 kg (12 lbs)
Propulsion Electric Motor
Endurance Approx. 1 hour
Max Cruise 35 m/s (78 mph)
Autopilot Piccolo SL
Onboard Computer Gumstix Overo running Gentoo Linux
Communications 2.45 GHz and 900 MHz
Sensors MIST sonde from NCAR

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