At the end of September 2012, a 44-foot long Global Hawk drone took off from NASA's Goddard Space Center Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia and headed east out over the Atlantic. The drone, which has a 113-foot wngspan and can stay airborne for more than 30 hours without refueling, was tasked with studying Tropical Storm Nadine off the African coast. For 10 hours the drone flew over the storm at 70,000 feet, releasing sensors called dropsondes and gathering data from its onboard instruments.
The drone flight was part of NASA's five-year Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) mission. According to NASA, Global Hawk drones provide an ideal platform to investigate hurricane formation and intensification.
Because Nadine was a long-lived storm event, it proved an excellent target for study by Global Hawk drones. Drones made five flights to observe Nadine during the course of the month and studied the storm at different stages of its evolution. The data from these and future missions are expected to provide insight ino the influences of environmental conditions such as moisture, vertical wind shear and Saharan dust on Atlantic tropical storm intensity. This should aid in weather forecasting and add to knowledge of the formation and movement of storms that are dangerous to mariners.