AAI Corporation’s Aerosonde small unmanned aircraft took flight in the Antarctic on a six-week University of Colorado exploration of the cold, rough katabatic winds in the region.

AAI’s crew flew four Aerosonde aircraft, which were fitted with meteorological instruments to measure pressure, temperature, relative humidity, winds, net radiation, surface temperature and ice thickness.

Satellite communication equipment was also integrated into the aircraft to enable beyond-line-of-sight aircraft control. The aircraft flew nearly 7,000 miles and logged more than 130 flight hours during their 16 flights.

The Aerosonde mk4 aircraft flew for up to 17 straight hours in temperatures as cold as -38°C and winds up to 90mph during its mission to Terra Nova Bay.

The aircraft were able to capture the required information to help the university generate highly detailed, three-dimensional maps that will help them study the katabatic winds’ relationship to Antarctic sea ice formation, the company says.

Previously, the aircraft had taken part in Nasa missions, which included a 17-hour flight into Hurricane Noel in November 2007 to explore the storm’s eye and the eye wall.