This Summer NASA and NOAA collaborated on a project that will shed some light on how hurricanes form and intensify. The WB-57,and two other aircraft flew into developing Hurricane's like Earl and Karl. Originally built for surveillance the WB-57 can fly at high altitudes in excess of 60,000 feet and carry up to 6000 lbs of payload The only two WB-57s in the world are located at Ellington.
The WB-57s main mission was to test and calibrate a science instrument called a HIRAD. The HIRAD or hurricane imaging radiometer can measure wind velocities inside a hurricane with greater accuracy then today's C-130 Hurricane hunter aircraft. Today's hurricane hunters measure wind at a single point, but with a HIRAD, twenty points can be read. This means the HIRAD has a much higher resolution and can find the maximum wind speeds inside a hurricane with much greater accuracy. If the test prove successful then every hurricane hunter in the fleet will use this instrument in the future.
The second mission objective was to find the genesis or creation of tropical cyclones from clusters of storms in the tropics. What are the conditions that encourage or discourage the formation process ? Current hurricane models are not very good at handling how hurricanes intensify. Tropical meteorologist still do not have a very good understanding of what is happening inside the hurricane during these periods of rapid intensification. Scientist will study the data obtained this summer and hopefully get a better understanding.
Another breakthrough for NASA was the first use of a drone aircraft inside a hurricane. The Global Hawk, an exmilitary drone flew into hurricane Earl. It carried four instruments and also flew at high altitudes for 25- 28 hours at a time collecting valuable data about Earl.