NASA has found a good use for three military UAVs — in this case, Aerovironment RQ-14 Dragon Eye drones — on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps. Equipped with sensors and cameras, the drones were sent on 10 separate flights into the miasma of sulfur dioxide rising up from the crater of the volcano known as Turrialba near San Jose in Costa Rica.
The overall hope is that the data collected by the drones will form computer models that can help safeguard airspace systems, improve climate predictions, and minimize the dangers for those who live near volcanoes. Of course, even drones would be useless if a volcano erupted in the middle of Los Angeles.
Matthew Fladeland, airborne science manager at NASA’s Ames Research Center, summed things up:
“This project is great example of how unmanned aircraft can be used for beneficial civilian purposes — in this case for better understanding Earth system processes and the impact of volcanism on our atmosphere. By taking these retired military tools, we can very efficiently and effectively collect measurements that improve NASA satellite data and aviation safety.”