The Aerosonde is a small robotic aircraft designed for highly flexible and inexpensive operations. Missions are conducted in a completely robotic mode, with the aircraft under the command of a ground controller who monitors the mission. Here we provide an update on the Aerosonde development and operations and expand on the vision for the future, including instrument pay loads, observational strategies, and platform capabilities. The aircraft was conceived in 1992 and developed to operational status in 1995–98, after a period of early prototyping. Continuing field operations and development since 1998 have led to the Aerosonde Mark 3, with ~2000 flight hours completed. A defined development path through to 2002 will enable the aircraft to become increasingly more robust with increased flexibility in the range and type of operations that can be achieved. An Aerosonde global reconnaissance facility is being developed that consists of launch and recovery sites dispersed around the globe. The use of satellite communications and internet technology enables an operation in which all aircraft around the globe are under the command of a single center. During operation, users will receive data at their home institution in near-real time via the virtual field environment, allowing the user to update the mission through interaction with the global command center. Sophisticated applications of the Aerosonde will be enabled by the development of a variety of interchangeable instrument payloads and the operation of Smart Aerosonde Clusters that allow a cluster of Aerosondes to interact intelligently in response to the data being collected.

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* Aerosonde Robotic Aircraft, Boulder, Colorado

+Department of Aerospace Engineering Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

#Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado.

@Cloud Cap Technology, Hood River, Oregon.