This Hurricane Hunter plane uses 3 radars to see storms in unique ways

One of the three radars on NOAA’s Lockheed WP-3D Orion airplanes scans storms both horizontally and vertically to give forecasters a 3-D look at the weather.

The National Hurricane Center is responsible for hurricane forecasts and for providing critical information about them, but they get a big assist from the men and women who are part of the Hurricane Hunters.

This elite squad of pilots, engineers and meteorologists from both NOAA and the Air Force Reserve fly into some of the worst weather on the planet to collect valuable real-time data about a tropical system.

One of the planes used by NOAA’s Hurricane Hunters is the Lockheed WP-3d Orion – a four-engine turboprop that is used to punch through the eye of a hurricane. It is packed with instruments and technology to measure wind speed and direction, barometric pressure, temperature and humidity.

The Hunters’ Orion airplanes are unique because they have three weather radars aboard. One of them is located in the nose of the aircraft, which is the same place most commercial planes house a radar. However, the Orion has two more – one on the belly of the plane and a third in the tail.


"When we’re flying, the nose radar is really the operational radar," said NOAA meteorologist Ashley Lundry in a 2020 YouTube video about the plane. "It’s the one that’s keeping us safe. We can see right what is in front of us and make sure that we’re not flying through anything that is too dangerous to fly through."

The belly radar, also called the lower fuselage radar, is used for both safety and research.

The radar in the tail of the aircraft scans weather the plane has already flown through, so its goal is purely research.

"The tail Doppler radar points to the front and to the rear, and it’s essentially painting a 3-D picture of what the hurricane looks like, and that’s being sent back, and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center can get a better idea about what the storm is doing," Lundry said.


Combine that unique perspective of a storm with all the other data being collected by the aircraft, and you’ve got an information buffet that is used to help refine hurricane or tropical storm forecasts.

In addition to two Orion airplanes in NOAA’s Hurricane Hunter fleet, there is also a Gulfstream IV-SP jet. It is used to fly above and around a storm at an altitude of 45,000 feet and collect upper-atmosphere data about storms. It also supplements the data collected by the Orion planes.