2 June 2012
Unmanned Drones To Fly Into Hurricanes In August
Posted by Dan Satterfield
The use of unmanned drones has been a very controversial political issue in recent months, but
NOAA (NASA is funding the experiment) is planning to use them in a very useful (and non-controversial) way. They will be flying a bunch of complex instruments into hurricanes in August and September over the next 3 years. These instrument equipped drones will be able to fly for 30 hours and will drop some specially designed (by NCAR) dropsondes to study the convection in the system very closely. They also will carry doppler lidar which will give much more accurate wind speeds.
This extra information is badly needed by researchers and forecasters, because intensity forecasts of hurricanes are rather lousy. We can predict the track much better than intensity, and with the ever-increasing coastal populations, this can make the difference between mass evacuations (which take days) or minor ones. If you evacuate millions from a coastal area and the storm is a dud, it will not take long for many folks to save the expense and traffic and ride it out at home. Hurricane forecasting is not for the faint hearted!
Fine post except for one problem. It is not a NOAA experiment, but a NASA experiment (see http://www.nasa.gov/hs3). The experiment is funded by NASA, is being run by NASA, and uses NASA aircraft. NOAA’s role is to provide one of the seven instruments.
Thanks for the correction Scott!
Dan, it is really great to see the Global Hawk sensor program moving forward. The revolutionary thing about this specific drone that flies above 55,000 feet and can loiter up to 30 hours is that it can provide real time high resolution mulitspectral data that we have not been able to capture before using satellites and manned aircraft. It is a tribute to some exceptional scientists at MIT Lincoln Labs, DARPA, Draper, Naval Research Lab and other places who pioneered this concept in the 90s to see their program mature. I fought for 60 million dollars in funding for an advanced concept technology demonstration in 1996 and got it from DARPA. Technology development takes a long time but I predict this will be worth it. The scientists behind this platform are real American heroes, like those who developed Hubble.
P.S. I hope they are also considering a search and rescue communications payload on this same mission that can be used to communicate with and locate ships that get into trouble during severe storms and hurricanes. There are some satellite systems out there already but this could provide real time two way communications long before the Coast Guard arrives, potentially saving lives. We have the technology!
Search and rescue transceivers using Global Hawk can provide greater link reliability, higher data rates, and better situational awareness, using smaller omnidirectional antennas and lower transceiver power. Global Hawk makes my day!
Y’all need to put Global Hawk over the Greenland Ice Sheet during summer melt. I hope that is a funding priority 😉
Dan, if Global Hawk works out well for meteorologists and climatologists, y’all owe me a case of beer. We almost lost this program in the mid 90s. If you think drones are controversial now, you can’t imagine how controversial back then. It was a very hard fight.