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Hurricane-Tracking Unmanned Systems Win NASA Challenge

NASA has selected three winning designs solicited to address the technological limitations of the uncrewed aerial systems (UAS) currently used to track and collect data on hurricanes. Engineering teams at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Purdue University, and the University of Virginia were named first- through third-place winners, respectively, of the agency's 2013-2014 University Aeronautics Engineering Design Challenge.

Among other stringent criteria, designs had to successfully demonstrate how the system would provide persistent five-month aerial coverage over an area of the Atlantic Ocean off the west coast of Africa where tropical depressions can form into hurricanes. Through this five-month period, systems must be capable of flying non-stop a minimum of seven days.

Virginia Tech's team won first place with its Gobble Hawk, an aerial system consisting of two aircraft, each with a flight endurance of 7.8 days, and using liquid hydrogen as a fuel source. Taking second place, Purdue's OQ451-5 Trident is a hydrogen-powered UAS capable of seven days of uninterrupted flight over the monitoring area. UVA captured third place with an aircraft dubbed The Big WAHOO — an acronym for Worldwide Autonomous Hurricane and Oceanic Observer — which has a flight endurance of 7.5 days.

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