During NOAA’s recent reconnaissance and surveillance missions into Hurricane Edouard, aircraft-deployed unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) were successfully deployed for the first time. On September 16, 2014, Sensintel’s Coyote UAS was released into major Hurricane Edouard’s eye using NOAA’s P-3 aircraft operating out of Bermuda as the delivery vehicle. Once deployed, the 7-lb, 5-ft-wingspan Coyote proceeded to spiral downward and outward into the high-wind hurricane eyewall. At an altitude of approximately 3000 ft, it penetrated Edouard’s western eyewall and then proceeded to orbit into the southwestern portion of the eyewall before briefly re-entering the eye during its 28-minute mission. Data from this demonstration (pressure, temperature, humidity, wind velocity and many aircraft-derived metrics) are currently being analyzed and evaluated. Preliminary investigations already suggest a highly unique dataset.
The next day, still operating out of Bermuda, the team was able to successfully conduct a second Coyote mission into Hurricane Edouard. This time, the experiment was designed was to send the Coyote along a low-level inflow channel similar to what air might experience as it spirals towards the eye. This second flight set endurance records for the Coyote, remaining airborne for 68 minutes at a controlled altitude of 1000-2500 ft. The Coyote may also have directly measured the sea-surface temperature as it expired into the ocean. This is the first such dataset of its kind. “Data from these new and promising technologies have yet to be analyzed but are expected to provide unique and potentially groundbreaking insights into a critical region of the storm environment that is typically difficult to observe in sufficient detail,” said Joe Cione, a NOAA Hurricane Researcher and Principal Investigator for the Coyote project. In all, four Coyotes were deployed in Edouard.
In addition, a new technology that builds on the proven success of the GPS dropwindsonde was also tested for the first time this hurricane season, thanks to support from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (the Sandy Supplemental) and stellar engineering work by NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center and the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Several modified dropwindsondes that incorporate an infrared sensor allowed for the first-ever estimates of co-located air-sea thermodynamic measurements within a hurricane. These special instruments (called IR sondes) also included an experimental, large parachute design which allows for higher-resolution vertical sampling r than was previously available.
Data from these new and promising technologies (both IR sondes and Coyote) will be analyzed and are expected to provide unique and potentially groundbreaking insights into a critical region of the storm environment that is typically difficult to observe.
The Government of Bermuda hosted these missions and effectively served as international partners in NOAA’s effort to improve hurricane forecasts for all countries affected by these storms. NOAA looks forward to continued research into the application of air-deployed unmanned aircraft to support and improve hurricane research and forecasts.