By Mark Rockwell
Arctic tests that paired drones and weather balloons could help improve data collection and provide a model for agencies looking to operate unmanned aerial systems in extreme climates.
Researchers from Sandia National Laboratory combined 13 foot-tall tethered weather balloons with free-ranging weather-data-collecting octocopter aerial drones in a restricted airspace test site that extends from Alaska's Prudhoe Bay almost to the North Pole.
The test site is a 700-mile-long, 40-mile-wide stretch of airspace from Oliktok Point – the northernmost point of Alaska's Prudhoe Bay. The area was put under the stewardship of Sandia, the Department of Energy and the Federal Aviation Administration in 2015 and serves as the base of operations for Sandia's Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility.