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BOSTON (CBS) — While Massachusetts residents will weather Saturday’s nor’easter from ground level, the Air Force’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron will have a different perspective.

The squadron is widely known as “Hurricane Hunters,’ but in this case, the team will be flying into the developing storm over the next few days.

We had a chance to chat with Lieutenant Colonel Mark Withee about what his team hopes to accomplish during the upcoming storm.

Zack Green: Obviously, you’re a part of the ‘Hurricane Hunters,’ but we are in the dead of winter here in New England. You’re going to flying through a storm that’s going to be bringing us blizzard conditions. You don’t typically think ‘Hurricane Hunters’ during winter time. Do you guys generally do missions like this outside the hurricane season?

Lt. Col. Mark Withee: “Yeah, absolutely. We get the name ‘Hurricane Hunters’, and it’s probably the highest profile part of our job. But the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron does perform flights in all sorts of weather conditions to form reconnaissance of what is going on. So yes, this is a big part of our mission. We are flying off the east coast today. Started that yesterday, and we’ll be going into the early hours tomorrow, at least. And taking a look at what the vertical profile is of that weather, so you have a better idea of just how much snow is coming to the Boston area here this weekend. At the same time, we also have weather missions going on in the Pacific looking at water flow going into the west coast and what they can expect for rainfall and snow pack going into the Sierras and across the western states.

ZG: What I find really interesting is you said this started yesterday with the Reconnaissance missions. There’s not really much of a disturbance happening right now, and it’s going to be forming probably later [Friday]. Are you doing these prior to the storm developing and are you planning to do these once the storm forms?

MW: Yeah, so the weather forecasters will look at the areas where weather is forming, and often times that’ll be down in the gulf area or out over the Atlantic. And really our whole purpose is to go out to those places, where there aren’t weather stations on the ground or there isn’t the capacity to launch weather balloons, and get a good idea of exactly what is going on. So yes, we will start well in advance of a system actually forming, and then fly through it up until it makes landfall. And really, then once it is over land, the ground stations and weather balloons and type of censor packages can fill in the rest of it.

ZG: What is some of the data that you do collect on these missions?

MW: Well, the big thing that we will be doing is dropping a dropsonde, which is a censor package that’s very similar to what is in a weather balloon. And this is going to be gathering data on humidity, dew point, temperature and wind speed. That’s obviously more critical for hurricanes. But dropping those through and developing a vertical profile of the atmosphere that’ll allow the forecasters to really build a better model of how a system might develop. So that data, along with flight level data from the aircraft, is transmitted back through the National Hurricane Center and integrated into the various models that are used to make forecasts.

ZG: How quickly will we be able to see the new models taking in this information and projecting it back out?

MW: The models are run at various times throughout the day. I can’t really speak specifically to how regularly those are. But our data does get relayed via satellite link in essentially real time. And one of the more popular pastimes for people that are weather enthusiasts is to watch along as our aircrafts fly through hurricanes. The data is publicly available, and so people can watch along through hurricanes, or during these winter storms. And people can go see what the winds like. If they’re really inclined, they can pull up the data from the dropsondes and look at the wind speeds and humidity and temps are as it falls down from the upper 20,000 to lower 30,000-foot range, down to the surface.

ZG: How far are you guys flying to make sure you gather all of the right dynamics and atmospheric information?

MW: We’re flying several hundred miles out into the Atlantic. Overall, I couldn’t tell you exactly how long the flight is from a miles perspective. But it’s about a 9-10 hour flight.

ZG: Is there anything else you’d like us to know?

MW: We’re an Air Force Reserve Unit. We’re kind of unique in that we have a lot of full-time folks and we bring in people from a lot of different walks of life. We come in and do the mission, and it’s really neat to see how this impacts people.

From a personal perspective, I’m a little jealous you guys are getting a lot of snow. I suppose from your perspective, it may be a bit much. But it looks like an interesting time.

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Change Ad Consent Do not sell my data This Solar Powered Airplane Could Be Worlds First Pseudo-Satellite

Back in 2016, a Swiss explorer and Swiss engineer built a thin plane covered with more than 17,000 solar panels that circumnavigated the Eath without using any fuel. The aircraft has a wingspan the size of a Boeing 747 but only weighs as much as a large car.

Source: Skydweller Aero/Youtube

Then, in 2019, a US-Spanish start-up called Skydweller Aero bought the Solar Impulse 2 in hopes of turning the plane into the world’s first “pseudo-satellite.” They wanted to create something that could work just like a normal orbiting satellite, but with less environmental impact and the fuel-less Solar Impulse 2 was a perfect choice.

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“A pseudo-satellite is an aircraft that stays aloft, let’s say, indefinitely,” Skydweller’s CEO, Robert Miller, told CNN Travel. “That means 30, 60, 90 days — maybe a year. And as such, it can do basically anything you would imagine a satellite can do.”

The satellite will be able to take Earth imaging, monitor natural resources, and provide telecommunications, according to CNN Travel. One challenge that the company faces is that the plane will need the sun to fly. However, recently scientists developed satellites that could still produce electricity at night, so this could be a fix to their problem.

Since 2019, Skydweller Aero has completed 12 test flights with the plane in southeastern Spain. “We’re in the process of turning it into a drone,” Miller told CNN Travel. “The pilot is still there for safety, but we now have the ability to fly the aircraft totally autonomously.”

Source: Skydweller Aero/Youtube

Although the plane still requires a pilot, the next step for the company is to make automatic systems that can fly the plane without a human present. They are even working on removing the cockpit, which will make more room in the plane and less weight.

The US Navy has invested $5 million into Skydweller to investigate if the aircraft would be able to perform maritime patrols. They currently use drones that can fly only 30 hours, and they are seeking technology that would allow them to keep a monitoring system in the air for longer. The Solar Impulse 2 could potentially stay in the air for months, with its current record being five days.

Satellites are expensive to build and are normally powered by fossil fuels. Satellites have a small lifespan and eventually get decommissioned, which has led to the “waste” in space. This could be a great sustainable option instead of temporary fuel-using satellites.

Miller told CNN Travel that they believe the plane could be deployed as early as next year. This plane could help out the environment in so many ways like monitoring for illegal fishing, oil leaks, illegal drilling operations, and even just monitoring natural resources and all without the use of fossil fuels! We are looking forward to what this groundbreaking invention could do for our planet!

Being publicly-funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content.Click here to Support Us Related Content:
  • U.S. Installed Enough Solar Energy to Power Over 23 Million Homes in 2021, Report Finds
  • Engineers Create Solar Panels That Produce Electricity at Night!
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