Aircraft With Unusual Purposes

WP-3D Orion
Hurricane Hunters

The Lockheed WP-3D Orion, also known as the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) hurricane hunters, are flown into hurricanes at altitudes of up to 25,000 feet to collect weather data like the storm’s path and intensity.

Introduced in 1976, only two of these highly modified P-3 Orion aircraft exist. The turboprop planes are equipped with advanced scientific instruments like radars, sensors and recording systems to measure the atmosphere, climate trends and environmental factors like the state of the ocean and its fish population. In addition to hurricane reconnaissance missions, P-3s also participate in international research programs. One example of its research capabilities occurred during BP’s catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. A hurricane hunter was sent out to monitor the air quality and pollution above the gulf.

Last September during hurricane Irene, two P-3 hurricane hunters made repeated flights into the storm to collect weather data, which helped the NOAA successfully predict the hurricane’s landfall in North Carolina and its destructive route up the East Coast. But proposed cuts to the U.S. weather agency’s budget, which includes an over 40 percent reduction in funding for hurricane hunters, could undermine the aircraft's future.

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