September 28, 2011
NOAA, taking a page from one of the best worst disaster movies, has designed a tiny plane to measure the heartbeat of a hurricane. The real scientists understandably upgrade from sliced-up Coke cans (and sure, if you want to get picky, the movie is about tornadoes), to a state-of-the-art drone. According to the Sun-Sentinel, GALE is a three-foot long, eight pound UAV that can be shot into the eye of a hurricane to collect data that should tell us more about how the ocean interacts with the atmosphere within the storms. Its name doesn’t seem to be an acronym so much as an emphatic prediction of its death cry — after using most of its power traversing the calmer center, operators will send it into the eyewall. With any hope, the data from GALE will help the National Hurricane Center make more accurate predictions about storm strength, an ability proven much more elusive than predicting their paths.
GALE was designed in part with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and cost $30,000; they’ll be tested this year and then sent into two hurricanes next year. It’s not the first drone to check out a hurricane — NOAA successfully flew the ten-foot Mark 3 Aerosonde UAV into Hurricane Ophelia in 2005. NASA has also been using the much larger, 44-foot unmanned Global Hawk to study hurricanes.
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