F r a n k M a r k s
The crew is composed of 5-6 scientists and 15-16 technicians, engineers, and flight personnel (pilot, co-pilot, navigator, etc.) Other than my first flight into Hurricane Allen, my most memorable flight was the first one into Hurricane Hugo on September 15, 1989. The aircraft I was directing lost the use of one engine as we entered the eye of the storm at 1,500 feet altitude. It was an extremely turbulent ride and we had to loiter in the eye for an hour while we cleaned up the airplane and gained altitude to fly back home. It was a frightening experience because we didn't know if the aircraft was damaged.
The Air Force also flies aircraft into the storms. Only an aircraft with the proper instrumentation can measure the wind and pressure within the storm, so that we can give an accurate measure of the storm's strength. We also carry special instruments like Doppler radars to map the rain and wind within the storm. All this information is transmitted back to the National Hurricane Center (in Miami) via satellite while the aircraft are still flying in the storm. These transmissions allow the hurricane specialists to have up-to-the-minute information on the storm's vital statistics. It's pretty amazing. Unfortunately, all this information still only tells us what the storm is doing at that moment and what it has done in the past. We have to rely on other information to help us guess about future trends in storm movement and intensity (numerical models of the atmosphere).
In my 20 years of flying into storms for NOAA I have also been around the world at least once, participating in experiments that have taken me to Mexico, Australia twice, and to Guadalcanal in the SW Pacific for extended periods. I wouldn't trade my experiences over the past twenty years for anything. They have enriched my life, as well as my work.
Editor's note: you can see Frank and his colleagues fly into Hurricane Dennis during LIVE FROM THE STORM program 1, "The Who, What, Where, Why and When of Weather", and also read more BIOgraphies and JOURNALS from NOAA/AOML here on the website.
For an astonishing, blow-by-blow account of the flight through Hugo which Frank refers to above, please check out Jeff Master's account, noting fire in engine #3 and many more incidents that sound as if they're scripted for a feature film rather than coming from real-life, at: http://autobrand.wunderground.com/hurricane/hugo1.asp
Also, coming soon, a SITE TOUR of the interior and exterior of a P-3 hurricane hunter aircraft!