The world’s first cloud-seeding drone has taken to the sky in Nevada to test technology that might help fight drought in future.
The fixed-winged aircraft flew to an altitude of 121m to autonomously deploy two silver-iodide flares. Dispersing particles of silver iodide into clouds is a technique used to trigger water condensation and initiate rain.
"We have reached another major milestone in our effort to reduce both the risks and the costs in the cloud seeding industry and help mitigate natural disasters caused by drought, hail and extreme fog," said Mike Richards, President and CEO of Drone America, which built the Savant platform used in the experiment.
"With a wingspan of 11-feet, 10-inches and its light weight design (less than 55 pounds) the Savant is the perfect vehicle to conduct this type of operations due to its superior flight profile, long flight times and its resistance to wind and adverse weather conditions."
The drone took off from Hawthorne Industrial Airport and stayed in the air for 18 minutes. The altitude reached in this experiment was clearly not enough to perform cloud-seeding operations as the experiment was only designed to test the payload. Currently the Savant drone has certification to fly up to 366m.
The experiment was one of the first steps in a project designed to help Nevada in future to augment regional water supplies. The project, led by the Desert Research Institute, builds on 30 years of experience with weather modification and has backing of the Nevada Governor's Office of Economic Development.
"It shows the tremendous potential to use unmanned systems as tools for environmental science and innovative natural resource applications," Amber Broch, chief engineer for the project and an assistant research engineer at DRI said about the test flight.
In future, the project partners plan to conduct tests of cloud-seeding operations using manned and unmanned systems, as well as existing ground generators in the Lake Tahoe Basin area and estimate the effectiveness of the technique.