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COTS UAV makes arctic debut

A Norwegian university has flown an autonomous unmanned air vehicle equipped with meteorological sensors over the Spitzbergen/Svalbard island in the arctic circle in temperatures of -20 degrees C (-4 degrees F), winds up to 15m/s (50ft/s) and at an altitude of 4,900ft (1,500m).

The Multiplex Funjet UAV was modified with electronics for open-source Paparazzi autopilot software by the Geophysical Institute of the University of Bergen, in partnership with Hildesheim, Germany based-Martin Mueller Engineering, a small UAV company. It is being used to collect enviromental data on temperature, humidity, pressure and wind.

Martin Mueller installed a larger propeller on the 70cm (27.5in)-wingspan, 80cm-long Funjet to improve take-off performance. The UAV was flown for one week from the Norwegian coastguard icebreaker "KV Svalbard", and from the island itself for two weeks, from 25 February-15 March.

"The batteries need to be warm [because the cold reduces their lifetime]," says Martin Mueller Engineering chief executive Martin Mueller. "They were warmed up to 40 degrees C before being placed in the Funjet," he adds.

The scientists used a pilot to launch and land the UAV using remote-control, but above 1,600ft and out of visual contact the Funjet had to operate autonomusly. The UAV was launched from and landed on the icebreaker's helicopter landing deck.

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