In June and July 2011 the RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aircraft System) SUMO (Small Unmanned Meteorological Observer) performed a total number of 299 scientific flights during the BLLAST (Boundary Layer Late Afternoon and Sunset Turbulence) campaign in southern France. Three different types of missions were performed: vertical profiling of the mean meteorological parameters (temperature, humidity and wind), horizontal surveys of the surface temperature and horizontal transects for the estimation of turbulence. The manuscript provides an introduction to the corresponding SUMO operations, including regulatory issues and the coordination of manned and unmanned airborne operations for boundary-layer research that have been pioneered during the BLLAST campaign.
The main purpose of the SUMO flight strategy was atmospheric profiling at high temporal resolution. A total of 168 profile flights were performed during the campaign with typically more than 10 flights per Intensive Observational Period (IOP) day. The collected data allow for a detailed study of boundary-layer structure and dynamics and will be used for further analysis, e.g. the determination of profiles of sensible and latent heat fluxes. First, tests of a corresponding method have shown very promising results and have provided surface-flux values in close agreement with those from ground-based eddy-covariance measurements. In addition, 74 horizontal surveys of the IR emission of the surface were performed at altitudes of around 65 m. Each of those surveys covers a typical area of around 1 km2 and allows for an estimation of the surface-temperature variability, important information for the assessment of the heterogeneity of the surface forcing as a function of soil and vegetation properties. The comparison with other surface-temperature measurements shows that the raw data of the airborne and ground observations can differ considerably, but that even a very simple multiple regression method can reduce those differences to a large degree. Finally, 49 flight missions for the measurement of velocity variance have been realized during the BLLAST campaign. For that, SUMO has been equipped with a 5-hole probe (5HP) sensor for the determination of the flow vector at 100 Hz. In particular, for this application there is still need for further improvement, both with respect to the aircraft and sensor hard- and software, and the algorithms and methods for data analysis and interpretation. Nevertheless, the SUMO operations during the BLLAST campaign have shown the vast potential of small and lightweight RPA systems with low infrastructural demand for atmospheric boundary-layer research.