Welcome to your first flight as a Hurricane Hunter. You will be flying right into the eye of a hurricane to gather information for the National Hurricane Center. First, meet the crew: the aircraft commander, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, weather officer, and dropsonde system operator. A dropsonde is a weather-sensing canister attached to a small parachute. It gathers information on the temperature, humidity, pressure, and winds inside the storm.
Once the navigator plots the position of the storm, you board the airplane. The bundles of wires, cables, and ducts running the length of the ceiling, as well as the giant tank of fuel in the middle of the cargo compartment, let you know this is no comfort ride!
The airplane takes off and then drops quickly to 10,000 feet. The weather officer switches on the High Density Data, which means the airplane is collecting position and weather data every 30 seconds. The weather officer's computer screen looks like a secret code of numbers, but each page is sent to the computers at the National Hurricane Center, where it is interpreted by forecasters.
Looking below to the water, the weather officer estimates the strength of the wind by the white caps, patches of foam, and spray. Heavy rain begins to pelt the airplane, and sheets of water wash over the windows. It gets darker, and turbulence begins to rock the plane.
As you penetrate the eyewall, the ring of thunderstorms containing the most violent weather in the storm, you're thrown against your seatbelt. Suddenly, the plane is hurled in every direction at once, and a brief flash of lightning breaks through the darkness. After a long three minutes, the dark clouds disappear, and suddenly, a bright light blinds you. The heavy rain stops, and the plane flies smoothly again. You're in the eye of the storm!
You now feel like you are in a giant football stadium made of clouds. As soon as the navigator notices the change in wind direction, the dropsonde operator loads and launches the dropsonde. When the dropsonde finally hits the water, the operator reads the sea level pressure and reports the data back to the National Hurricane Center. After six hours of collecting data, you return home.
Congratulations on your first mission with the Hurricane Hunters! Now, would you like to do it for real?