Reconnaissance aircraft

Forecasters rely on data collected by three different aircraft to monitor a hurricane's intensity and motion. Two are highly specialized planes operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; the third is operated by the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

WP-3D Orion

The most sophisticated plane, it carries advanced instruments to measure surface wind speed. The NOAA aircraft flies into the eye of a hurricane at 10,000 feet, releasing dropwindsondes.


Up to 50 per mission are released, and they transmit data by radio. The top is a parachute to stabilize decent, and the bottom is a humidity sensor. They are about 16 in. long.

Gulfstream IV-SP

This unique NOAA aircraft flies at high altitudes in the environment around a hurricane. The jet uses dropwindsondes to measure the steering currents that determine a storm's direction.

C-130 Hercules

Operated by the Air Force Reserve, it penetrates the storm's eye wall like NOAA's Orion, following an "alpha" flight path. By releasing dropwindsondes, it records a hurricane's most violent winds near the ocean surface.