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NASA goes into the eye of Hurricane Earl

September 2, 2010 |  5:19 pm


While the tendency for most people is to run from a hurricane, the folks at NASA don’t appear to share that sentiment.

NASA sent a robotic plane into the eye of Hurricane Earl, which is moving toward the East Coast.

The unmanned spy plane, called the Global Hawk, took photos both outside and inside the hurricane. The plane also collected data from several of its remote-sensing instruments, such as radar, and transmitted it back to NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center in the Mojave Desert, where the plane took off Thursday morning.

The Global Hawk is one of three aircraft being used by NASA in its Genesis and Rapid Intensification Processes experiment. GRIP is a NASA Earth science field experiment that runs from Aug. 15 to Sept. 30 to better understand how tropical storms form and develop into hurricanes.

The Global Hawk is typically used in Iraq and Afghanistan for reconnaissance to find insurgents and weapons depots. It takes off and lands without the need of a pilot's hand. Instead, NASA pilots simply design a flight path on a computer and sent it on its way.

Built by Northrop Grumman Corp. in its manufacturing facilities in Palmdale, the Global Hawk flies high above the clouds at 60,000 feet -- almost twice as high as commercial airliners. The plane has a flight range of 11,000 nautical miles, or half the circumference of Earth.

-- W.J. Hennigan

Photo credit: NASA/NOAA