Kermit and Ms. Piggy: Hurricane Hunters

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Kermit and Ms. Piggy: Hurricane Hunters

Postby Scylla » 18 Sep 2008, 15:28

When hurricanes and tropical storms churn over the Atlantic, aircraft usually opt to get of the way. Yet for some, counterintuitive behavior is in the job description. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is tasked with flying into and out of some of the world's most destructive weather.

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NOAA's AOC (Aircraft Operation Center) is led by its two flagship Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft based at MacDill AFB in Florida. N42RF and N43RF (their official names) often go by different monikers; Jim Henson's Muppet characters Kermit and Ms. Piggy. Each aircraft sports custom nose art illustrating its namesake.

For Kermit and Ms. Piggy, who just finished up studying Hurricane Ike last week, the task at hand is clear:

Data collected during hurricanes by these airborne meteorological platforms and from a variety of other sources are fed into numerical computer models to provide better forecasts of how intense a hurricane will be, and when and where it will make landfall.

These data, from the aircraft, fulfill two important purposes: to help forecasters make accurate predictions during a hurricane; and to help NOAA researchers achieve a better understanding of storm processes, thereby improving their forecast models.
The typical WP-3D mission can run as long as nine to 10 hours, putting these two aircraft through brutal conditions, slammed by hurricane force winds, fierce rain, violent up and downdrafts, all with the goal of getting inside the calm at the eye of the storm often at altitudes of 1,500 to 25,000 feet.

Once inside (or over) the hurricane, the WP-3D uses its nose, lower fuselage and aft radar to measure the intensity of the storm. The WP-3D has been significantly modified to fly these missions as flying science laboratory. In addition, the aircraft drops probes, called GPS dropwindsondes, directly into the storm to gather data on the air and sea temperature, wind speed profile and humidity of the storm, all of which is relayed back to the aircraft for analysis.

Each aircraft, powered by four Allison T56-14 turboprop engines, is manned with two pilots, a flight engineer, navigator, meteorologist flight director, two or three engineering/electronic specialists, a radio/avionics specialist and up to 12 additional scientists or media personnel.

When the aircraft isn't flying straight through the eye wall of a Category 5 hurricane, Kermit and Ms. Piggy have undertaken climate studies in Central and South America, as well as air quality research in the northeastern US and satellite validation missions over the North Atlantic.

NOAA, a division of the US Department of Commerce, operates a small fleet made up of a Gulfstream IV-SP (Gonzo) and Jet Prop Commander, Cessna Citation II, Rockwell Aero Commander, DeHavilland Twin Otter and Lake Seawolf, all tasked with studying and understanding the world's weather.

According to NOAA, the Muppet twins have a remaining useful lifetime of another 10-15 years opening the door for a replacement platform. Currently, the US Navy P-3 Orion, a cousin of the WP-3D, is set to be replaced by Boeing's P-8A Poseidon, which is based on the 737-800 set to fly in 2009. Perhaps a 737/A320 replacement here?

With hurricane season not set to expire until the end of November, Kermit and Ms. Piggy have their work cut out for them.



http://www.flightglobal.com/blogs/fligh ... icane.html
Airplanes usually kill you quickly - a woman takes her time.
Scylla
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