Drone flies in SW China skies to produce rain, battle drought

The use of drones, which reportedly will become a "normalized" procedure, is part of the official efforts to compensate for a lack of rainmaking capabilities in the country's current weather modification methods.

You may have grown used to reports of drones being used for a variety of purposes such as aerial photography, forestry inspection and even emergency search and rescue, but drones being used for cloud seeding are perhaps hitherto rarely heard of.

China’s meteorological authorities recently made headlines by deploying a drone to make rain and combat drought in the country’s mountainous southwestern Guizhou Province.

On March 31, the drone took off from a local airport in Guizhou and completed its first cloud-seeding mission.

Since spring this year, parts of southern China have experienced early signs of a drought. To forestall the impact of a possible drought on a similar scale to last year’s, metereological officials have taken precautionary measures, including drone-assisted cloud seeding.

The drone, nicknamed “timely rain” and developed by Tengden Technology (腾盾科创) in conjunction with the national meteorological administration, is 11m long and 3.1m high, with a wingspan of 20.2m.

Built specially for weather modification purposes, the device comes with cloud seeding, aerological sounding, de-icing and air-to-ground communication equipment.

It can carry up to 48 bars or 200 pellets of certain chemicals that are often dispersed into the air to improve a cloud’s ability to produce rain. The drone is designed to fly at a maximum height of 10,000m and possesses a range of 8,000km. It lasts 40 hours in a single flight.

These specs make it fit for cloud-seeding operations under the complex geographical conditions of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, which has an average altitude of 1-2km.

On its maiden cloud-seeding flight on March 31, the drone flew through layers of clouds at 2,100m above sea level along planned routes.

The use of drones, which reportedly will become a “normalized” procedure, is part of the official efforts to compensate for a lack of rainmaking capabilities in the country’s current weather modification methods.

Starting in the summer of 2022, Guizhou has sustained a prolonged heat spell. This led to the worst drought to hit the province in 60 years, taking a toll on agricultural production and people’s life.

Tengden, the company that supplied the drone this time, was founded in 2016 in Sichuan Province. It specializes in the manufacturing of smart aerial vehicles and drones to serve clients in regional logistics, emergency management, meteorological service and other aviation segments or scientific research.

Having taken part in efforts to bring rain to drought-ravaged Sichuan last summer, the “timely rain” drone will continue to carry out artificial rain-producing tasks over a sustained period to come in Guizhou and adjoining provinces.

Meteorological authorities will also dispatch a team of experts to provide on-site support and guide the use of drones.

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Ni Tao

Ni Tao is the founder and editor-in-chief of cnrobopedia. Prior to cnrobopedia, he had a full decade of experience with a major state-run English-language newspaper as a tech reporter and opinion writer. He is also a communications specialist, having provided consultancy services to established firms like Siemens, Philips, ABinBev, Diageo, Trip.com Group (Nasdaq: TCOM, HK: 9961), Jianpu Technology (NYSE: JT) and a handful of domestic startups. A graduate of Fudan University, he writes widely about China's business and tech scenes and other topics for global publications including South China Morning Post, SupChina, The Diplomat, CGTN, Banking Technology, among others, and tries to impart his experience to students at Fudan University Journalism School, where he is a part-time lecturer. When he's not writing about robotics, you can expect him to be on his beloved Yanagisawa saxophones, trying to play some jazz riffs, often in vain and occasionally against the protests of an angry neighbor. Get in touch with him by dropping a line at nitao0927@gmail.com.

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