Estimating the “when and where” of a hurricane is obviously one of the toughest predictions to nail down in meteorology. Now, thanks to a successful test flight, an enhanced drone system may help researchers improve accuracy and save lives.
On Thursday, a team from NOAA and Raytheon unleashed a successful mid-air deployment of its advanced Coyote Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS). Launched from the NOAA P-3 Hurricane Hunter aircraft, the fixed-wing drone set a new distance record for data transmission and flight control, providing NOAA hurricane forecasters with real-time data on atmospheric air pressure, temperature, moisture, wind speed and direction – all while maintaining altitudes too low for manned aircraft to safely navigate in such an environment.
“This successful flight gives us additional confidence that we will be able to use this unique platform to collect critical continuous observations at altitudes in the lower part of a hurricane, an area that would otherwise be impossible to reach with manned aircraft,” said Joe Cione, NOAA chief scientist of the Coyote program.
Since hurricanes are augmented by warmer ocean water, data collected at the meeting point of ocean and atmosphere can be vital in helping experts understand and predict a hurricane’s strength.
“Coyote could help us paint a better picture of current storm intensity for our storm updates,” said Chris Landsea, science operations officer at NOAA’s National Hurricane Center.
In 2014, NOAA tested four Coyote drones during Hurricane Edouard in what was called a “perfect environment to test new data-collecting drones (because the storm was strong, had a well-defined eye and never threatened land).” However, the agency wanted to improve the drone’s ability to fly farther from the manned P-3 launch plane while still streaming continuous sensor data.
“We’ve made some significant improvements to Coyote. It can now fly for 50 miles away from the launch aircraft,” said Thomas R. Bussing, vice president of the Advanced Missile Systems product line at Raytheon.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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