UAVs used for Research during Hurricane Maria

Randy Jennings

May 18, 2013
Air & Space Magazine (10/10/2017) - As Hurricane Maria roared northward, Joseph Cione, a research meteorologist with the NOAA Hurricane Research Division, was staring at a computer screen and bouncing in his seat aboard a NOAA P-3 Orion, well inside the storm. Also aboard were seven Coyotes, small disposable remotely operated vehicles built by Raytheon and designed for military reconnaissance. Cione wanted to see if the drones could collect data from the lowest levels of a hurricane where it’s hard for scientists to reach.

The Coyotes, wrapped inside a protective sleeve, weigh only 13 pounds and have a wingspan of five feet—not much larger than some flyable model airplanes. The P-3 deploys them from its dropsonde-dropper with a small parachute. But, unlike the dropsonde, when the Coyote is free of its protective sleeve, its wings and rudders swing into flying position. Each Coyote can fly for about one hour, piloted remotely by a Raytheon representative aboard the P-3, before its battery fails and the tiny drones fall into the ocean.


The extended time off proved worthwhile. During Hurricane Maria the Coyotes proved able to operate up to 35 miles away from their P-3 mothership. Four of the aircraft “worked remarkably well” and provided “extraordinary data,” says Cione. Three of those aircraft flew within the hurricane’s eyewall at low altitude, a feat that crewed hurricane hunters cannot risk. While the small aircraft were tempest-tossed, essentially hitchhiking on the swirling winds, they only made it part way around the eye wall before they were lost.

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The sad news is that they are now down to a single Coyote and have no other funding:
It is very sad to hear that this worked well but is now out of funding, any time that you can eliminate the risk taken by actual humans is a good thing meanwhile collecting groundbreaking data.