UAH Students’ Octocopter An Aerial Option For Storm Surveys

Posted on: 8:53 pm, April 25, 2013, by and , updated on: 10:28am, April 26, 2013

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – Saturday marks two years since the tornadoes of April 27, 2011 ripped the Tennessee Valley apart–changing lives and landscapes.

Since that time we’ve shown you the aftermath, the resolve to rebuild and the resulting progress in a myriad of different platforms, but none quite as rudimentary, yet fascinating as an emerging technology WHNT News 19 recently stumbled upon.

Forecasters use views from above to analyze damage data and even help categorize storms.  So, could there be a cheaper, quicker, easier way to obtain and analyze aerial footage?

Would you believe a college student can do it with a remote control device?

Over the past two years, we’ve shown you many examples of aerial footage that illustrates not only what a powerful tornado can do but what dedication and hard work can accomplish.

The perspective gained with aerial surveillance has become an integral part of weather service analysis after the storm.

“Especially when we’re dealing with larger tornadoes, more violent tornadoes with longer tracks because it gives us a bigger, a better perspective of the damage in more of the harder hit areas,” said Huntsville Warning Coordination Meteorologist David Nadler.

Like getting a view from the top two years later in a ravaged area like Phil Campbell, for example.  Here, people lost their homes, their church and their school. The high school and home of the wildcats has been wiped clean, being rebuilt now from the ground up.

The octo-copter, used to capture aerial video, was designed by UAH student Chris Sallis and his engineer buddies Mike and Richard.

“We weren’t really happy with many products on the market so we developed our own frame and integrated a lot of systems that were commercially available and some we developed ourselves,” said Sallis.

Chris has been flying remote craft as a hobby for 14 years now, but this sophisticated system allows footage to be streamed instantly in real-time.

“I have a video downlink coming from the octo-copter that allows me to see its perspective and it goes straight to these video goggles, which basically makes it feel like you’re actually siting in the cockpit of it,” said Sallis.

In the cockpit of a 14 pound but powerful device that can withstand hefty wind gusts and climb safely to over 400 feet.

“The flight control system we chose to use for this aircraft makes it literally hands-off, I mean I can completely let go of the aircraft and it’s perfectly stabilized, it holds altitude and GPS position,” said Sallis.  This provides high quality results–instantly.

“This type of technology is greatly beneficial in disaster situations,” said Sallis.

Aerospace engineering student Chris Sallis is involved with a lot more than playing with remote control helicopters.  His work on full scale military aircraft has taken him to Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and most recently Korea.