Aircraft taken into storms for your safety


By Tom

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Flying into a hurricane is not only serious but exciting work. The Hurricane Hunters with the Air Force Reserves stationed out of Kessler Air force Base fly the very reliable WC 130-J model aircraft into tropical storms and hurricanes.

But, they aren't alone.

There are also two other aircraft that fly into tropical storms and hurricanes. They are the Lockheed WP-3D Orions (P-3s) and Gulfstream IV SP (G-IV) Jet. Both are operated by NOAA.

NOAA has two P3 Orions that fly into the storms. Both aircraft have four turbo prop engines that produce over 4,000 horsepower each. On board are two pilots, a flight engineer, navigator, a flight meteorologist, two or three additional engineers and up to 12 scientists and media personnel.

It's a much larger crew than the WC-130 Air Force Reserves the Hurricane Hunters fly with.

The P-3s fly at altitudes of 1,500-10,000 feet and instruments called a dropwindsondes are dropped into the storm. By the way, the dropwindsondes are biodegradable and will not harm the ocean waters.

The devices continually radio back to the aircraft measurements of pressure, humidity and temperature, along with wind direction and speed. Normally the P-3 makes four passes into the storm.

A normal flight for the crew starts in the southwest section of the storm and then fly to the northeast. Once out of the storm, the aircraft makes a left turn and enters from the northwest flying to the southeast. The pattern is repeated four times to get the most accurate information of the storm. Normal flight time is around 10 hours.

A much smaller, yet faster aircraft that is used by NOAA is the Gulfstream IV, or G-4. In 1997, NOAA started using the G-4 for high altitude flights.

With a newly-developed GPS Dropwindsonde, vital high altitude information is obtained to be used in numerical models that will aide in the forecasting of where the storms are, strength and direction.

Data from the G-4 aircraft is expected to help improve the forecasting of hurricane landfall and track forecasts by up to 20 percent. It also aims to refine tropical storm and hurricane intensity forecasts.