The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce, recently used six Coyote unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) from defense contractor Raytheon Co. to track and model Hurricane Maria.
Launched from a NOAA WP-3D Orion hurricane hunter aircraft, the Coyotes flew directly into the storm – giving researchers an unprecedented view of Maria from a safe distance, says NOAA.
Developed for the military, Coyote is a small, expendable UAV that’s air- or ground-launched into environments too dangerous for manned aircraft. The system can fly for more than an hour and up to 50 miles from its host aircraft.
“Raytheon technology is enabling hurricane hunters to understand storm behavior in new and better ways,” comments Dr. Thomas Bussing, Raytheon’s vice president of advanced missile systems. “Our expendable Coyote UAVs are delivering vital information about these potentially deadly storms, and that can help save lives.”
Navigating Maria’s winds of greater than 100 miles per hour, the Coyote drones gathered and transmitted storm information directly to the National Hurricane Center. NOAA says its scientists are evaluating the data to better understand Hurricane Maria and other storms like it.
“NOAA is investing in these unmanned aircraft and other technologies to increase weather observations designed to improve the accuracy of our hurricane forecasts,” notes Dr. Joe Cione, a NOAA hurricane researcher and chief scientist for the Coyote program. “The Coyotes collected critical, continuous observations in the lower part of the hurricane – an area impossible to reach with manned aircraft.”
NOAA says researchers can also fly the UAVs throughout the storms and revisit key locations inside hurricanes to obtain the most robust data possible.