NASA turns Saab 340s into flying wx stations

Aviation International News, Stephen Pope, April 2005

NASA researchers are seeking to bring better weather information to pilots and controllers by converting a fleet of regional turboprop airliners for service as flying weather reporting stations.

A team led by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., has designed, built and equipped dozens of Mesaba Airlines Saab 340s with the so-called Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report (TAMDAR) instrument, a small weather sensor that automatically collects and reports current weather conditions in flight.

The 1.5-pound TAMDAR sensor unit collects atmospheric conditions and then transmits its data by satellite to a ground collection center. The center processes and distributes up-to-date weather information to forecasters, pilots and weather briefers. NASA researchers believe the experiment will lead to improvements in current weather condition analysis and forecast accuracy.

“Our goal is give pilots better weather information, so they can make better decisions in flight,â€￾ said Taumi Daniels, TAMDAR project leader. Installing the TAMDAR units on regional turboprops instead of jets means the data comes from lower altitudes, below 25,000 feet, where most weather is occurring, Daniels added.


Improving Weather Forecasts

All weather forecasts and weather forecasting models could benefit from the data that the TAMDAR team collects, because it increases the number of observations in the lower atmosphere. There are currently only 90 weather balloon sites in the U.S. used to collect temperature, wind and moisture data from twice-daily atmospheric soundings, Daniels said. Integrating Mesaba’s Saab 340 fleet with the Great Lakes Fleet Experiment will add 1,300 more daily atmospheric reports.