Embry-Riddle Undergrads Test-Launch New Instruments from Hurricane Hunter Plane

Dr. Josh Wadler and Embry-Riddle junior Lauren Villafane with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Hunter
Dr. Josh Wadler and Embry-Riddle junior Lauren Villafane with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Hunter, a WP-3D Orion aircraft. (Photo: Laura Chaibongsai/NOAA)

Late last month, two Meteorology undergraduates from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University experienced a rare research opportunity. Invited to fly on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Hurricane Hunter aircraft, the students helped test-launch instruments designed to provide critical measurements during hurricanes in order to better forecast the storms and understand the physics of what makes them intensify.

“I was absolutely thrilled,” said Lauren Villafane, a junior majoring in Meteorology. “As a student, it’s difficult to pick a direction when you are interested in a field with so many facets. This trip provides an opportunity to see the research side of things, as well as get out there and ask questions from people who have been working in the meteorology field for years.”

According to Dr. Josh Wadler, assistant professor of Meteorology, the purpose of the flights was to validate innovative technologies for making measurements close to the surface of the ocean, where it is too dangerous for crewed aircraft to fly, as was described in an article published in October, just after Hurricane Ian.

Using small Uncrewed Aerial Systems (sUAS), last month’s flights assessed whether the new instruments being tested could survive being thrown out of a plane at 210 knots and whether they communicated reliable measurements back to the Hurricane Hunter. The testing was done in clear weather conditions in order to validate the instruments’ performance before they are used in an actual hurricane.

Watch a video clip of the instruments being deployed.

“The missions were a big step forward in getting our new sUAS and atmospheric profiler ready to be launched in a hurricane,” Wadler said.

Sean Stoltz, another Meteorology junior who flew aboard the NOAA Hurricane Hunter, said he attended high school near an NOAA facility and got to know a few NOAA pilots.

“To actually get to fly with them is a dream,” said Stoltz, adding that he would like to work as a pilot after graduation, either for NOAA or the airlines. “This research opportunity will give me a great way to make connections in NOAA’s aviation department and help me move in that direction.”

Villafane would like to work for NOAA or the National Weather Service after she graduates, doing work she feels will be satisfying on two levels.

“Getting the public the information they need to stay safe — in a subject I absolutely love — is a job I can feel good about,” Villafane said.

Posted In: Applied Science | Aviation | Research | Uncrewed Systems