Mullendore is the principal investigator on the grant; her co-principle investigator is the department chair Mike Poellot, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Sciences.
Why the tropics?
"Because most of the research about the hazards of thunderstorm systems to aviation has been done in the mid and northern latitudes, so we have clearly understood hazards and defined rules for pilots about how to avoid such storms," said Poellot, who among other duties is principle investigator for UND's Cessna Citation II atmospheric research jet. That knowledge and those rules apply equally for unmanned aircraft.
While the aviation industry knows that aircraft should not fly directly through thunderstorms, hazards also extend beyond the visible boundary of the storms. The question this grant-funded research will address is: what is an appropriate avoidance distance that will ensure aircraft safety while optimizing mission performance?
"As part of this grant, we will summarize what we already know about tropical storm-related hazards to aviation," said Mullendore, one of whose key tools is computer modeling.
"Then we'll move forward with the climatology, studying all the available satellite data and the limited available radar data to help us model how tropical thunderstorms behave," Mullendore said. "They're much different from the thunderstorms we experience in our part of the world — part of the grant's aim is to find out how to help aircraft, crewed or unmanned, avoid those hazards in the tropics."
Mullendore will employ three students — a Ph.D. student, a master's degree student and an undergraduate, all from the atmospheric sciences department — in this grant project.
"Our students think it's really great to be involved in hands-on research," said Mullendore, who helped to launch and is advisor for the UND Women in Science chapter.
Juan Miguel Pedraza University & Public Affairs writer