Responsible for closely monitoring the Earth's ever changing environment, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) plays a vital role in assisting forecasters to accurately predict when and where a hurricane is likely to strike.
The NOAA currently operates three 'hurricane hunter' aircraft which are affectionately named after Jim Henson's lovable Muppet characters Kermit, Miss Piggy and Gonzo.
Flying around and through deadly hurricanes, the 2WP-3 Orions or P-3 aircraft Kermit and Miss Piggy are used to gather essential hurricane research and reconnaissance.
Providing the critical link between aircraft and ground control stations, Cobham's cutting-edge satcom solutions such as the AVIATOR 700 have become fundamental to the success of many of the NOAA's operations.
Electrical Engineer for the NOAA Jeff Smith is responsible for the integration of new systems including satellite communications onto aircraft such as the P-3 hurricane hunters.
He explains: "It's a common misconception that the P-3 aircraft are only used to research hurricanes, in fact, as well as hurricane research they are used to track and research atmospheric events across the globe.
"By tracking winter storms rolling across the Pacific while based out of Japan and Hawaii, NOAA is able to greatly improve forecast capabilities in the U.S.
"This development has enabled us to accurately predict winter storm weather up to ten days in advance, where previously it has only been possible to produce six day accurate forecasts."
Mission Critical Equipment
The aircraft carry exceptionally sophisticated equipment including radar, computers and weather instruments that determine characteristics such as temperature, air pressure, wind speed and wind direction inside the hurricane.
During a mission, which can often last up to ten hours, the crew onboard release instruments to measure temperature, air pressure and wind at varying levels as the devices drop through the hurricane towards the ocean.
Once the data is gathered, it is critical that it is communicated effectively to control stations on the ground to be analysed by scientists responsible for predicting the storm's path.
The development of satellite communications as an instrumental technology to transmit data to the ground has become critical in the success of the NOAA's hurricane hunter missions.
Within the advancement of severe weather event prediction, the capability to send larger quantities of data, at a faster speed has been imperative.
"The launch of Inmarsat SwiftBroadband has provided a huge step forward for us as it has offered the capability to send more data in real-time.
"With the use of Cobham's AVIATOR 700 SwiftBroadband solution we can now send forecasters full resolution radar images, as well as stream live video images, which will be useful for news & other TV programmes to show the public what is going on."
Jeff concludes: "The more information we can send from the aircraft, the more accurate the NOAA forecasters' prediction is likely to be. The Cobham AVIATOR 700 system has become a vital instrument in performing our missions, allowing us to significantly expand our capabilities."