From top to bottom: WC-130H Hercules, WP-3D Orion, Gulfstream IV-SP
WC-130H photo courtesy of the U.S. Air Force. WP-3D photo courtesy of NOAA/Brad Smull. Gulfstream IV-SP photo courtesy NOAA/AOC
Why the Different Airplanes?
Why do the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and the Hurricane
Research Division use different airplanes? Actually, they only use two
main types. The top two airplanes in the graphic, the WC-130H Hercules and
the WP-3D Orion, are both turboprops. The bottom airplane in the graphic,
the Gulfstream IV-SP, is a turbofan.
The difference between a turboprop and a turbofan is more than just a few
letters. A turboprop is a propellor-driven aircraft. They are
well-suited for the slower speeds and low altitude (between 1,000 and
10,000 feet) flying associated with hurricane penetration. Both the WC-130H
and the WP-3D have four turboprop engines which allow them to stay in the
air from 8-12 hours (the WP-3D) up to 15 hours (the WC-130H).
A better-known term for a turbofan engine is a jet engine. A jet isn't as
economical as a prop at low altitudes and slow speeds but it is faster and
more economical at higher altitudes. Because of this, the Gulfstream
observes at a higher altitude (around 43,000 feet) around a hurricane.
Also, the greater speed allows for a greater operating radius so the
Gulfstream can record wind speed and direction away from the hurricane
itself. This information is needed make the forecasted track
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