ambience: cockpit air-to-ground transmissions, tropical hurricane winds
Imagine that you’re all alone, piloting a plane tens of thousands of feet in the air. In front of you there’s a terrible storm, which you proceed to fly directly over. I’m Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet.
“As I approached the eye of the hurricane, it had to be one of the most terrifying sights I have ever seen from a distance. The eye wall was completely filled with lightning, and, from my perspective, even at 65,000 feet, it appeared that I was going to fly into that.”
David Wright flies the ER-2, a single-pilot high-altitude aircraft, out of Dryden Research Center. When he’s doing hurricane research, his mission is to fly over storms like 2005’s Hurricane Emily. On the ground, Emily’s winds reached up to 135 miles an hour.
“The flight over Emily’s eye was pretty spectacular, partially because it was night and partially because the lightning was so close to the airplane. And, from about 60 miles out I could see the eye very clearly, and it was a-just a boiling cauldron of fire, if you will, from a distance, and as the aircraft approached, it was not real clear whether my altitude was going to exceed that of the lightning. Once I arrived over the eye, I have to say that it felt like the entire aircraft was engulfed in lightning. The lightning was flashing probably 25 to 30 times a minute as I passed over each of the eye walls, to be in the middle of the eye and the eye wall, in this case, completely filled with lightning was a very disconcerting and almost frightening experience that, after two passes I decided that I’d had enough and spent the rest of the mission flying a box pattern around the eye. Ask me again in a couple of months whether I would like to go do that again. I haven’t quite decided yet.”
High-altitude flights allow researchers to survey conditions all the way from sea level to the top of the storm system, an invaluable tool in creating models to predict hurricane behavior. Pulse of the Planet is made possible by the National Science Foundation with additional support from NASA. I’m Jim Metzner.