In recent years, an increasing number of hurricanes have impacted the United States with devastating results, and many experts expect this trend to continue in the years ahead. In the wake of powerful recent Hurricanes Sandy (2012), Harvey (2017), Irma (2017) Maria (2017) and Michael (2018), NOAA is working to provide improved and highly accurate hurricane-related forecasts over a longer time window prior to landfall. NOAA therefore has taken on the challenge to develop a program that will require applying the best science and technology available to improve hurricane prediction without placing NOAA personnel at increased risk. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are an emerging technology in the civil and research arena capable of responding to this need.
NOAA is testing and developing three small UAS platforms with the ultimate goal of flying them into the boundary layer environment — i.e. where the hurricane meets the surface of the ocean — of mature hurricanes. The first effort is the OAR-funded project with AREA-I Inc., while the other two of these efforts (with Black Swift Industries and Barron Associates) are being funded through NOAA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program.