Wednesday, August 15, 2012

NASA Global Hawk pilots face challenges flying hurricane missions

NASA: NASA's Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel, or HS3, mission will be a complex one for the pilots flying NASA's Global Hawk aircraft from the ground. The mission, set to begin this month, will be the first deployment for the unmanned aircraft away from their regular base of operations at the Dryden Flight Research Center on Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. In addition the pilots will be operating the aircraft from two locations on opposite coasts.

After the upload of specialized science equipment is complete, the two Global Hawks will fly from one coast of the United States to another over sparsely populated areas and open water to reach NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

NASA Wallops was selected as a deployment site because the area of scientific interest is the Atlantic Ocean, especially the eastern Atlantic where hurricanes begin to form. Flights from the U.S. East Coast take less transit time to the target than those from NASA Dryden and allow the aircraft to travel further out over the Atlantic and collect data for a longer period of time.

Waiting at Wallops will be a mobile ground control center, mobile payload operations center and Ku-band satellite dish – all necessary for operation of the high-altitude and long-endurance aircraft. Scientists, maintenance personnel and three pilots will support flights from Wallops.

...The interesting scenario for HS3 is that the pilots are in California's Mojave Desert, talking with East Coast controllers through a radio located on the aircraft. When flying in oceanic airspace, pilots talk with international controllers over telephone. This communication is vital as air traffic controllers provide the altitude and number of other aircraft sharing the same area of the U.S.'s National Airspace System and international air space as the NASA aircraft. When the Global Hawk reaches an altitude of between 60,000 and 65,000 feet, there are few aircraft competing for space. ...

NASA's Global Hawk crew prepare for a flight. Mission manager Matt Graham (left) and pilots Tom Miller (center) and Phil Hall of NOAA monitor the aircraft prior to take off. (NASA / Tony Landis)

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