National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Testing Hurricane Hunting Drones

Global warming is affecting Earth in many ways. As ice sheets and glaciers melt, sea levels rise. This, in turn, impacts storm systems, contributing to the increase in hurricane severity we have witnessed over the last decade. Since its founding in the 1970s, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has been studying weather patterns to better predict outcomes and create preparatory models.

NOAA, and its affiliates, have developed some of the most advanced weather tracking systems. As technology has progressed, the tools NOAA has access to have been able to better assess weather phenomena. NOAA is testing a new generation of remote-controlled hurricane hunting drones. The drones will improve hurricane forecasts and assist emergency managers in evacuation.

The drone named, Altius-600, will be collecting data above the ocean during hurricanes, a zone unsafe for NOAA’s piloted Hurricane Hunter. The 25 pounds aircraft will fly into some of the planet’s most destructive weather, entering the dangerous lower eyewall, where the atmosphere and the ocean meet. This area has violent waves and strong winds, ideal for scientists but extremely dangerous for pilots.

In an interview with Aviation Today, Lt. Cmdr. Adam Abitbol said, “We’re trying new technology. This will enable us to gather meteorological data in a part of the storm where we have little means to.” As an NOAA Corps test pilot and WP-3D Orion aircraft commander, Lt. Cmdr. Adam Abitbol has already been on hand to test the Altius drones. “This will allow us to collect an immense amount of new data in the boundary layer. This is the area just above the ground and the most difficult area to get meteorological data.”

Previously, NOAA used dropsondes, disposable devices dropped from a manned aircraft into a storm. And while they are useful, their lack of control makes them somewhat unreliable. Altius-600 comes with new and exciting features, such as its 265 miles range and approximately 4 hours of flight time. It can gather real-time information at a greater accuracy than ever before. The Altius-600 can also be launched and integrated with P-3 Orion, C-130A, AC-130J, UH-60 military aircraft, ground vehicles, sea-based platforms, and civilian aircraft.

The drone has technological applications such as the counter-unmanned aircraft system (CUAS), and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance (ISR) features. NOAA has been testing the disposable drones for over a year now, and hopes to begin testing them further this hurricane season. “We’re hopeful this new technology, once it can be successfully tested in a hurricane environment, will improve our understanding of the boundary layer and advance NOAA forecast models used in forecasts,” said Joseph Cione, lead meteorologist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory Hurricane Research Division. “Ultimately, these new observations could help emergency managers make informed decisions on evacuations before tropical cyclones make landfall.”

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