UK Chemistry Pioneers First Stratospheric Measurements Using Drone Glider

By Jenny Wells

Travis (TJ) Schuyler (left) with Gary Pundsack, CEO of Stratodynamics Inc., hold the HiDRON glider. Schuyler, with UK chemistry Professor Marcelo Guzman, engineered the atmospheric-sensing equipment that was integrated into the glider.

A University of Kentucky doctoral student and chemistry professor have measured environmental variables during high-altitude, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flights for the first time, reaching a better understanding of meteorological conditions to enable the next generation of weather forecasting models.

Travis Schuyler, a doctoral candidate in the UK Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts & Sciences, working with Marcelo Guzman, built a system for fast sampling of temperature, pressure and humidity for the HiDRON glider, a high-altitude measurement platform developed by the earth observation company Stratodynamics Aviation Inc.

According to Schuyler, part of the challenge involved engineering the instrument to fit in the glider fuselage, and to integrate it along with other important hardware and avionics systems to enable the unmanned flight and collection of atmospheric data.

“This is the first time that this kind of atmospheric-sensing equipment has been integrated into a balloon-launched, unmanned glider and the results will enable the evolution of new UAV technology and in-situ observation methodologies," Schuyler said.

“A project goal is to better understand meteorological and weather forecasting models by measuring atmospheric conditions during high-altitude aerial vehicle flights, and we are very excited to share the data collected using the HiDRON with the scientific community,” Guzman said.

UK Chemistry Professor Marcelo Guzman, left, and Schuyler attended an atmospheric research conference in Boulder last summer. This is where the two originally met Gary Pundsack with Stratodynamics Aviation Inc. and began collaborating for this project.

Schuyler and Guzman's project was in collaboration with a stage of HiDRON flight tests by UAVOS Inc. and Stratodynamics Aviation Inc. The companies successfully reached an altitude of 25 kilometers (82,000 feet) for the first time. The UK team members have published their results in Sensors, an open access peer reviewed journal, which can be accessed at the following link, Using a Balloon Launched Unmanned Glider to Validate Real-Time WRF Modeling.

“We got amazing data in the descent from 25 kilometers, all the way down," Guzman said. "Flying to 25 kilometers is not at all an easy task, and it required special government/military authorization in Belarus. The sensors were completely new and designed for the challenge of operating under the extreme conditions at this altitude."

"This project has provided me amazing opportunities and a network to advance this kind of research to continue developing environmental monitoring devices," Schuyler said. "I would have never imagined how many exciting opportunities our graduate program could provide, and I would highly recommend it to others.”

Read more about the projects at, and about the full research article at Using a Balloon Launched Unmanned Glider to Validate Real-Time WRF Modeling, T.J. Schuyler, S.M.I. Gohari, G. Pundsack, D. Berchoff, and M.I. Guzman. Sensors (2019), 19 (8), 1914, DOI: 10.3390/s19081914.

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion two years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety and the Chronicle of Higher Education judged us a “Great College to Work for.” We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for three straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.


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