Cool PixCyber FlightFAQs | Swan 38 ScholarshipMedia RequestsMeteorology | Home  


Cyberflight Entoute to the Storm

As we fly over the Gulf of Mexico toward Dennis, the weather is beautiful! It's an odd feeling, knowing that what awaits us is quite different. In Pilot Training, we were always told to stay far, far away from thunderstorms, now they want us to go right through them. We remind ourselves that we all volunteered for this job!


Hurricane Dennis is nearly 300 miles away, so it will take only an hour and a half for us to get there. Let's tour the plane! 

As you walk forward in the cargo compartment of this rather large plane, you find two very specialized equipment pallets at the front of the compartment.



On the left side of the cargo compartment is the ARWO (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer) and the equipment that the ARWO uses to record flight level data from the aircraft's weather instruments as well as the satellite transceiver to communicate our data to the Hurricane Center.

A recent addition to the ARWO's arsenal of weather equipment is the SFMR (stepped frequency microwave radiometer) that allows us to sample wind speed at the ocean surface as we fly along above the ocean at 5,000 or 10,000 feet. From here the ARWO is able to monitor the data, guide the pilots to the center of the storm using the wind speed and direction outside the aircraft, and make the fix when we pass through the center of the storm.


On the right side of the cargo compartment you'll find the weather reconnaissance loadmaster along with the equipment used to launch a dropsonde out of the aircraft, collect data transmitted back to the airplane from it, analyze and format the data, and send it to the ARWO for transmission to NHC.

The dropsonde is a small weather instrument that sends temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed,

wind direction, and position back to the aircraft twice each second during its 2500 foot per minute descent to the ocean surface. This instrument allows us to collect important information about a storm such as maximum winds in the eyewall and surface pressure at the center of the storm.


d As you climb the stairs to the flight deck you find the navigator at the back of the cockpit. The navigators job is two-fold in a tropical storm mission. The first, as you might well imagine, is to plot our course to and from the storm as well as plot our alpha pattern (see below) as we make multiple passes through the center of the storm.

The second job of the navigator is to help keep us all alive by monitoring the radar, keeping us clear of any

severe thunderstorm cells and severe turbulence, and having an escape vector handy at all times in the even that the pilots feel we're in weather too heavy to safely navigate.  


An "alpha pattern" is the flight path we typically follow as we collect data in a tropical storm.

To help you visualize what an "alpha pattern" looks like, think of cutting a diagonal across the storm, 105 nautical miles on either side of the eye. Then, it's a simple case of always making left turns, so the aircraft doesn't have to fight the winds that are swirling counter-clockwise. Notice that after two passes through the eye (fixes), the winds in all four quadrants have been measured. At this point, the plane would typically continue the alpha pattern, making two more fixes before heading home.



d   At the front of the cockpit sits our two pilots. The difficult task of flying a large 4 engine cargo aircraft into weather that every pilot is taught to avoid at all costs falls upon these two crew members.

While we all work as a team to accomplish the mission, it's the skill of these two people that gets us there and back safely.



As you look out the front windshield at the clouds thickening ahead of the airplane, the loadmaster comes up to let you know we are about to enter the storm.

You head back to the cargo compartment to take your seat, wondering if coming along on this ride was such a good idea after all!




Into the Eye   







This site is managed by the non-profit Hurricane Hunter Association. Please read these important disclaimers and site info. For media requests: please see our Public Affairs information page.
Website designed by George Perina