NASA to Use UAVs for Hurricane Research

Global Hawk drones can over-fly hurricanes at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet
Publish date:

NASA will begin a multi-year hurricane-research program in the Atlantic Ocean basin during the summer of 2012 by flying unmanned aerial vehicles, dubbed “severe storm sentinels,” into hurricanes to study the formation and intensity change of those storms.

NASA is to use at least two of its Global Hawk UAVs to conduct the research because that drone “can over-fly hurricanes at altitudes greater than 60,000 feet with flight durations of up to 28 hours, a task that is nearly impossible for piloted aircraft,” the agency says. In addition, Global Hawks were used to conduct the agency’s 2010 Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes hurricane mission and the Global Hawk Pacific environmental science mission.

“Hurricane intensity can be very hard to predict because of an insufficient understanding of how clouds and wind patterns within a storm interact with the storm’s environment,” said Scott Braun, the program’s principal investigator and research meteorologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The drone research seeks to improve understanding of those processes by taking advantage of the surveillance capabilities of the Global Hawk along with measurements from a suite of advanced instruments, he added.

NASA is to begin hurricane flights in August 2012 running into early October, and will operate subsequent years’ flights from June 1 to Nov. 30, the agency says. Two Global Hawk aircraft will be flown from a base of operations at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

“One aircraft will sample the environment of storms while the other will measure eyewall and rainband winds and precipitation,” Braun said. The large-scale environment that tropical storms form in and move through and how that environment affects the inner workings of the storms will be examined, he said.