ESRL Global Systems Division

FSL Participates in ROA Flight Demonstration Project

NOAA's leadership role in implementing the International Earth Observation System includes the development and testing of Remotely Operated Aircraft (ROA, formerly referred to as UAVs) for providing global weather and climate observations. The Forecast Systems Laboratory is one of several NOAA Research laboratories collaborating with NASA in support of this project. A test flight of the Altair ROA, developed by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), was conducted April 20, 2005 in California. The goal of these missions is to evaluate the utilization of ROAs for improved U.S. and global observing.

FSL's Sara Summers serves as the deputy project manager of the Flight Demonstration project. Her involvement includes coordination of the Boulder scientific experiments aboard Altair. In attendance at last week's demonstration were NOAA administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher, FSL director Dr. Alexander MacDonald, NOAA chief of staff Scott Rayder, director of NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations Admiral Richard Behn, GA-ASI president and CEO Thomas Cassidy, NASA deputy associate administrator for technology Terry Hertz, and about 40 other invited guests. Admiral Lautenbacher and the leaders present were encouraged about the possibilities that this platform presents for future observing capabilities. The Altair's integrated sensor package consists of such components as an ocean color sensor and passive microwave sounder developed by the NOAA Environmental Technology Laboratory, a gas chromatograph and ozone sensor developed by the Climate Modeling and Diagnostics Laboratory, a digital camera system provided by NASA, and an electro optical infrared sensor provided by GA-ASI. High- and medium-altitude, long-duration ROAs can fly at remote locations in dangerous flying conditions for long periods. This technology provides many scientific benefits such as sustained global high quality all-weather profiles of atmospheric composition (water vapor, aerosol, cloud water, and trace gases), and high altitude vertical resolution and profiling. It also offers a rapid response platform for improved high impact weather forecasts at 1-day to 2-week lead times, and better climate change detection, attribution, and prediction in support of policy decisions.

More information of the ROA project can be obtained at

Contact information
Name: Sara Summers
Tel: 303 497 4221