Compact weather instruments dropped by an aircraft over vast stretches of ocean and/or raging storms can be much easier, safer, and more wide-ranging to deploy than sending a ship with scientific or military personnel into harm’s way. Long, thin tubes called dropwindsondes (or dropsondes, for short), which are packed with sophisticated computer technology, can radio invaluable meteorological data back to the aircraft as they fall toward the water under their paracute/canopy. One example of their use is that the extensive data obtained can let storm specialists accurately predict a hurricane’s landfall.

There are three dropsondes displayed over the Mesa Laboratory stairwell. The first one is a cumbersome, bulky early design; the red canopy dropsonde next to it is the first version of the present design; and the smallest dropsonde, pictured here, called the AVAPS, represents the current generation—it includes GPS, or satellite-connected positioning capability.

To learn more about the division at NCAR that designed and built the dropwindsonde, the Atmospheric Technology Division (ATD), go to

To read more about the Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS) dropsonde, as well as the history of these instruments and their technology, go to http://www.eol.ucar/edu/facilities.html, and then click on "GPS Dropsonde."