Research buzz: Unmanned aircraft venture into hurricanes


: NASA's Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel Mission, also known as HS3, is exploring the massive tropical systems from high altitudes via two unmanned Global Hawk aircraft. Instruments on board the planes will collect data researchers and meteorologists plan to use to better understand how tropical storms and hurricanes form and strengthen.



: Scott A. Braun, a research meteorologist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, is the mission's principal investigator. Others involved include co-investigator Pete Colarco, instrument principal investigator Matthew McGill and research meteorologist Gerald Heymsfield of the Goddard center, and severe weather meteorologist and University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor Jeffrey Halverson.


Stage of research

: The first of what will be a three-year-long series of flights launched Sept. 7, exploring what was then Hurricane Leslie for 10 hours from 60,000 feet in the air. More flights will continue through early October, and then will resume in the 2013 and 2014 hurricane seasons.


: Measurements of winds, temperature, water vapor, precipitation and aerosols (suspension of solid particles in the air, not spray cans) could help explain "the interaction of tropical disturbances and cyclones with the hot, dry and dusty air that moves westward off the Saharan desert," Braun said in a NASA article. That African air is thought to influence storm formation and strength. Better understanding could improve storm forecasting.