One of the space agency’s two Global Hawks. Courtesy NASA

NASA is using a drone developed by Northrop Grumman in Rancho Bernardo to study hurricanes and other developing storms in the Atlantic Ocean.

The remotely-piloted Global Hawk flew to the East Coast last weekend and will operate from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops Island, VA, during the peak of the hurricane season. It flew over Tropical Storm Erika in the Caribbean Ocean on Wednesday.

“We’re flying the Global Hawk above hurricanes and other severe storms to refine it as a new, powerful tool to better forecast where hurricanes go and how intense they are,” said Robbie Hood, director of NOAA’s unmanned aircraft system program. “The mission is part of NOAA’s work to improve our nation’s preparedness and resilience to hurricanes and other severe storms.”

The drone will provide real-time data for the National Weather Service‘s forecast models at the National Hurricane Center.

“The Global Hawk allows us to stay over these weather patterns a greater amount of time than manned aircraft,” said Gary Wick, NOAA’s lead scientist for the mission. “It provides us with an observing tool that has the endurance of a satellite but provides finer resolution data and precision of an aircraft.”

The drone can operate at 60,000 feet — nearly twice as high as manned aircraft — and gather weather data continuously for up to 24 hours.

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Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.