Mechanical & Materials Engineering, Department of


Intercomparison of Small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) Measurements for Atmospheric Science during the LAPSE-RATE Campaign

Lindsay Barbieri, University of Vermont
Stephan T. Kral, University of Bergen
Sean C. C. Bailey, University of Kentucky
Amy E. Frazier, Arizona State University
Jamey Jacob, Oklahoma State University
Joachim Reuder, University of Bergen
David Brus, Finnish Meteorological Institute
Phillip B. Chilson, University of Oklahoma
Christopher Crick, Oklahoma State University
Carrick Detweiler, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Abhiram Doddi, University of Colorado, Boulder
Jack Elston, Black Swift Technologies
Hosein Foroutan, Virginia Tech
Javier Gonzalez-Rocha, Virginia Tech
Brian R. Greene, University of Oklahoma
Marcelo I. Guzman, University of Kentucky
Adam L. Houston, University of Nebraska—Lincoln
Ashraful Islam, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Osku Kemppinen, Kansas State University
Dale Lawrence, University of Colorado, Boulder
Elizabeth A. Pillar-Little, University of Oklahoma
Shane D. Ross, Virginia Tech
Michael P. Sama, University of Kentucky
David G. Schmale III, Virginia Tech
Travis J. Schuyler, University of Kentucky
Ajay Shankar, University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Suzanne W. Smith, University of Kentucky
Sean Waugh, NOAA National Severe Storms Laboratory
Cory Dixon, University of Colorado, Boulder
Steve Borenstein, University of Colorado, Boulder
Gijs de Boer, University of Colorado, Boulder

Document Type Article

© 2019 by the authors.

Open access



Small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS) are rapidly transforming atmospheric research. With the advancement of the development and application of these systems, improving knowledge of best practices for accurate measurement is critical for achieving scientific goals. We present results from an intercomparison of atmospheric measurement data from the Lower Atmospheric Process Studies at Elevation—a Remotely piloted Aircraft Team Experiment (LAPSE-RATE) field campaign. We evaluate a total of 38 individual sUAS with 23 unique sensor and platform configurations using a meteorological tower for reference measurements. We assess precision, bias, and time response of sUAS measurements of temperature, humidity, pressure, wind speed, and wind direction. Most sUAS measurements show broad agreement with the reference, particularly temperature and wind speed, with mean value differences of 1.6 ± 2.6 °C and 0.22 ± 0.59 m/s for all sUAS, respectively. sUAS platform and sensor configurations were found to contribute significantly to measurement accuracy. Sensor configurations, which included proper aspiration and radiation shielding of sensors, were found to provide the most accurate thermodynamic measurements (temperature and relative humidity), whereas sonic anemometers on multirotor platforms provided the most accurate wind measurements (horizontal speed and direction). We contribute both a characterization and assessment of sUAS for measuring atmospheric parameters, and identify important challenges and opportunities for improving scientific measurements with sUAS.