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Raytheon Technologies Produces Three On-location Videos of MIRSL Storm-chasing

Tornado in Jasper Clarke County

Raytheon Technologies has just released three interrelated videos of the storm-chasing research carried out by faculty and students of the Microwave Remote Sensing Laboratory, or MIRSL, in collaboration with faculty and students from Purdue University while chasing tornadoes and severe thunderstorms throughout the Midwest and deploying a sophisticated Raytheon radar prototype unit known as Skyler. 

Watch the videos under the umbrella title of Radar Reimagined: Chasing the Storm;  Weather Watching Engineered; and The Scientists Behind the Search.

Raytheon defined Skyler as an “active electronically scanned array” that surveils the airspace and atmosphere for use in aviation and weather applications. In one of the videos, Stephen Frasier, a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department and the co-director of MIRSL, explained that “We’ve been collaborating with Raytheon for some time. We’re not meteorologists, but we have to straddle that boundary between engineering and meteorology.”

Frasier also explained how special it is to have the use of Skyler as developed by Raytheon.

“To build an instrument like Skyler is extremely challenging. I don’t know that we would have the resources to do something like that here [at MIRSL]. To be able to have access to the equipment, Raytheon has basically expressed a lot of confidence in us. They have not really restricted us in any way in terms of what we can do with the system. Here’s the hardware, here’s the manual, go have fun.”

Raytheon noted on its website that “Without the need of moving parts required in most of today's aviation and weather radars, Skyler provides high-resolution data needed for aircraft separation and weather forecasters.”

“The radar itself is pretty complete,” Frasier said in another video. “All we’ve had to do was make some customizations on the software side and on the physical deployment of the radar in order to meet our research objectives. There’s a lot of interest in the weather community for understanding phased array scans of weather because they can be done generally faster and more arbitrary.”

As Frasier added about MIRSL’s storm-chasing research, “The interest is in being able to rapidly update this picture of the storm, say every 30 seconds. To do that with a conventional scanning radar is really impractical.”

In a related comment, Raytheon also observed that “Skyler can scale up from a single radar to a geographically distributed network of radars working collaboratively to provide timely data over a large area. This makes it suitable for upgrading long-range radar systems with the added

capability to mitigate gaps in coverage. Skyler provides low-altitude coverage to address the ‘below the radar’ challenge and sense weather events that go undetected today.”

MIRSL Ph.D. student William Heberling is also featured in the videos. “So I was one of the primary drivers for getting the radar where it needs to go, driving,” said Heberling. “But I was also responsible for setting up and taking down the radar, as well as operating it while we’re collecting data. Getting to work in this lab and have access to radar like that is really a unique experience.”

MIRSL is a research laboratory in the ECE department at UMass Amherst and specializes in the conception, design, and implementation of advanced microwave and millimeter-wave systems for remote sensing of the geophysical environment. Since its founding, MIRSL has graduated over 100 advanced degree students who now work in industry, academia, and government.

As ECE Department Head Christopher Hollot commented about the total impact of the three interlocking Raytheon videos, “This is wonderful and a great reflection on MIRSL, it's co-directors, and especially our students!”

(October 2020)