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Media Release

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment


28 January 1998

A robotic Aerosonde weather reconnaissance aircraft made its first operational flight yesterday, (27 January) transmitting weather conditions on the periphery of Cyclone Tiffany off NW Western Australia.

Parliamentary Secretary for the Bureau of Meteorology, Senator Ian Macdonald, said the aircraft was launched from Port Hedland at 4.30pm Western Standard Time to gather offshore data.

The three-metre wingspan aircraft powered by a 20cc engine ranged up to 136km offshore, sending continuous data transmissions of wind speed and direction, pressure, temperature and humidity, and several vertical profiles of atmospheric conditions. Selected data was relayed to the Tropical Cyclone Warning Centre in Perth.

The computer-controlled Aerosonde is being developed by a Melbourne company, Sencon Environmental Systems Pty Ltd, in collaboration with the Bureau of Meteorology and the US-based Insitu Group, as a flexible and economical observing platform for a wide range of meteorological purposes. Potential activities include routine observations in remote locations, severe weather reconnaissance and local environmental monitoring. The Aerosonde is expected to provide a valuable export industry, with more than 30 aircraft already ordered.

The Program director, Dr Greg Holland of the Bureau of Meteorology Research Centre said, "this was a good mission, the first serious attempt to fly automated weather reconnaissance under operational conditions."

"We had intended to keep it out all night, but a generator fault threatened the communications, so we brought it home at midnight for a fully automatic landing in the dark on a sandy area - an excellent test of its capacities."

"It was a good start for trials which will test 10 aircraft under operational conditions. We will fly routine missions through to March, observing coastal weather."

"We'll also tackle specific missions into coastal weather systems, including, should there be an opportunity, tropical cyclones," Dr Holland said.

The trials will give the Bureau valuable experience with Aerosonde Phase I operations and observing capacity. Bureau forecasters will define the missions and will use data for forecasting.

After three years of development, the Phase I Aerosonde can fly for more than 30 hours over a range of 2500 km, to an altitude of 5 km. The 15kg aircraft is completely autonomous, but is operated under command from a ground station.

Senator Macdonald said the Port Hedland trials have attracted considerable international interest.

"Observers from the United States, China, Japan and Taiwan will participate in operations in February. Launch and recovery is from a specially prepared runway at Cargill Salt," he said.

Once in the air, the aircraft command will pass to the Bureau's Perth Regional Forecasting Office. Aircraft will operate under radio communications within a coastal zone extending 80 km out to sea from east of Port Hedland to Point Sampson, and out to the North Rankin offshore platform.

For further information please contact:
Clare Richards - Senator Macdonald's office - (02) 6277 3665 or 0419 698 275

Colour photographs of the aerosonde are available

Commonwealth of Australia