Monday, June 01, 2015

NOAA's Hurricane Hunters: Introduction (1 of 6)

I recently wrote about the Hurricane Hunters of the US Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (see my May 20th article for more information and links). As some of you know, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has its own Hurricane Hunters. Today I start a multi-part series on NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters. Please take a few moments to watch this short video about NOAA's Hurricane Hunters.

direct link to video

NOAA's Hurricane Hunters are two Lockheed WP-3D Orions, known as “Miss Piggy” and “Kermit” and a Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) based in Tampa FL at the NOAA’s Aircraft Operation Center on the Mac Dill Air Force Base.

Obtained on May 31, 2015 from 

Recall that the  C-130s of the US Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron fly hurricane reconnaissance missions.  NOAA's two WP-3D does some hurricane reconnaissance missions but their primary mission during the hurricane season is hurricane research. The WP-3D Orions have four turbo prop engines and are equipped with special weather equipment. According to NOAA’s information page on the Lockheed WP-3D Orion, a typical crew consists of “2 Pilots, Flight Engineer, Navigator, Flight Director (meteorologist), 2 or 3 Engineering/Electronic specialists, Radio/Avionics specialist, and up to 12 Scientist or Media personnel”, this same link has more specs and a listing of the special weather equipment on the WP-3D.

The red mission badges represent the Hurricanes (name and year) she flew. The flags are the countries she has been to.
Obtained on May 31, 2015 from (Note: link was active at time I obtained this photo, no longer active link as of 9/10/2016)

NOAA’s webpage on the Gulfstream IV-SP G-IV provides specs on this aircraft, equipment, and a listing of the crew positions. On a typical hurricane mission NOAA’s G-IV flies with a crew of nine: 2 pilots, 1 flight engineer/mechanic, 1 flight meteorologist (flight director), 1 High Attitude Profiling System (HAPS) system operator and 3 Engineering Technicians/Dropwindesonde (Sonde) system operators.

My understanding is that one of NOAA’s WP-3D and the Gulfstream IV-SP pair up while flying a hurricane mission. The G-IV will fly over the hurricane at a high altitude (the ceiling of the G-IV is 45,000 ft) while the WP-3D will penetrate the hurricane at an altitude of anwhere from 1,500 to 10,000 feet. The WP-3D will make multiple penetrations of the hurricane eye. Hurricane missions are of long duration, lasting for up to eight to nine hours. You might be interested in reading a nice short description of NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters that may be found here.

Coming up:

Part 2 (June 3): From NOAA about the WP-3D, dropsondes, and the G-IV
Part 3 (June 5): A little more about the WP-3D Hurricane Hunter mission
Part 4 (June 8): more pictures and videos of NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters
Part 5 (June 10): A small taste of how the NHC uses Hurricane Hunter aircraft data
Part 6 (June 12): NOAA's WP-3Ds undergoing major overhaul

June 12, 2015. Now that I know a little more about Hurricane Hunters (from NOAA and the USAF Reserve 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron), I do plan on trying to learn even more about what these magnificent aircraft and their crew do as they fly into hurricanes. As I learn more I'll report back here.

September 10, 2016 Outdated link on page removed and other links updated

Thank-you Hurricane Hunters!!

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