A hawk is stalking the Hurricane Hunters of Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss.
The Global Hawk, that is. The Northrop Grumman unmanned aerial vehicle that the Air Force has been using increasingly in combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan may eventually mean the end of the rough-and-tumble hurricane monitoring mission of the Keesler-based 403rd Wing, which has been flying WC-130 Hercules aircraft into the storms for decades.
"One reason why NASA ... and NOAA [National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration], is looking at the Global Hawk is to monitor hurricanes," Ed Walby, business development director for Northrop Grumman's High-Altitude Long-Endurance Systems, said today at the Paris Air Show. "I predict ... Global Hawk will probably replace at some point those hurricane hunting missions."
The Global Hawk flies at 60,000 feet and can loiter for up to 36 hours. That puts it well over the storm activity and the ability to stay on mission far beyond the capability of a C-130.
"You can fly a Global Hawk over a hurricane for its entire life, and drop temperature-measuring devices [into it] and begin to model the development of hurricanes and storms and typhoons," he said. The UAV was designed to replaced the famed U-2 spy aircraft, meaning it has to be able to operate at high altitudes and with a variety of information-gathering systems.
"So it's a very effective altitude for reconnaissance, a very convenient altitude, and that's specifically what the Global Hawk is designed to do," he said.