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Last week, the story of Delta flight 431 went viral. The world watched as the aircraft weaved through Hurricane Irma, landed in San Juan (SJU) and quickly loaded up with passengers to make its way safely back to New York (JFK). Many thought that it was an insane feat, as flying through one of the most powerful hurricanes in record history seemed incredibly dangerous.
But for the people who fly the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s “Hurricane Hunter” aircraft, that flight likely seemed timid. NOAA operates two Lockheed WP-3D Orions that conduct research on weather and atmosphere changes. The quad-engined turboprops are outfitted with a host of tools and technology to collect weather data and are made to withstand intense turbulence.
The NOAA’s Orions, militarized versions of the 1950s-vintage Electra commercial transports, routinely fly through storms in order to better collect data and ran several missions through Irma.
You can see NOAA flight 42 on September 8 flew at about 8,000 feet through the storm, including in its eye, while a JetBlue jet was cruising above at 36,000 feet — above the storm and out of harm’s way. The Hurricane Hunter name is rightly deserved.
NOAA employee Rob Mitchell released a video taken aboard one of the aircraft’s missions flying directly into Hurricane Irma — it’s pretty intense viewing. This WP-3D Orion is named Kermit The Frog, for the stuffed Muppets character that hangs from the cockpit’s window. The clip shows the intense winds and rain seen from outside of Kermit’s windows. At about 1:55 the aircraft breaks through the storm and finds itself in the eye of Irma. The circular arena of seemingly peaceful clouds is quite the sight after the extreme weather the plane braved.
Featured image by Rhona Wise/Getty Images.
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