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NOAA hurricane researchers have added a new tool to their toolbox. For the first time, an Area-I Altius-600 uncrewed aircraft system was deployed into a hurricane by scientists at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory while onboard a NOAA WP-3D Orion Hurricane Hunter aircraft (N42RF, “Kermit”).

This uncrewed aircraft system (UAS) is capable of operating in low- and medium-altitude maritime environments, areas of the storm too dangerous for humans to go, and features a range of 275 miles while traveling at speeds of up to 100 mph. The UAS or drone, designed with an airframe that can handle considerable damage, has its actions controlled through onboard programming and/or by aircraft-based operators. On September 28, 2022, the Hurricane Hunters transected Category 4 Hurricane Ian during a period of rapid intensification. Despite extreme turbulence, the crew successfully launched the 27-pound drone, which then completed a two-hour mission, acquiring critical measurements to understand these complex storm systems.

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