Published on February 16th, 2020 | by Mark Dwyer


NOAA Hurricane Hunter at Shannon

Given our recently spell of interesting weather, it’s not surprising that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Lockheed WP-3D Orion (N42RF) has arrived in Ireland. The four-engine turboprop aircraft, affectionately nicknamed “Kermit”, probes every wind and pressure change, repeating the often gruelling experience again and again during the course of an 8-10 hour mission. The aircraft has been operating out of Shannon since early February to monitor the passage of Storms Ciara and Dennis. The crew published some of these photos on Friday.

NOAA History

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Aircraft Operations Center was born as the Research Flight Facility (RFF) in 1961. The U.S. Weather Bureau’s National Hurricane Research Project, of which RFF. was originally a part, funded the acquisition of two Douglas DC-6 aircraft, a B-57A and a DC-4 to support its multifaceted atmospheric research programs which included the early attempts to modify hurricanes. This project, called Stormfury was a joint effort of the Weather Bureau and the Department of Defense to learn more about hurricanes to be able to say whether their intensity could be decreased through dynamic cloud seeding in order to achieve beneficial results. In 1970, a WC-130B was obtained on loan from the U.S. Air Force to further enhance this program.

US President, Richard M. Nixon, proposed the creation of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in July of 1970. His goal was to unify the nations scientific efforts under one agency. NOAA would provide scientific and technical services to other federal agencies, private sector research interests and the general public. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration became a reality in October of 1970. NOAA was tasked with the responsibility to predict changes in the oceans, atmosphere and living marine resources. The data gathered by NOAA would be shared by other government agencies, the research community, private industry and the general public.

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the Research Flight Facility’s aircraft, operating from Miami International Airport engaged in many atmospheric research projects spanning the globe from the Arctic to India and West Africa. It also continued with the Stormfury project until it was recognized that aircraft with better performance characteristics and more sophisticated instrumentation would be required to successfully achieve the goals of the project. To this end, two WP-3D Orion turbine powered aircraft were ordered from the Lockheed California Company in 1973.

In 1975 the facility was combined with a unit from the Environmental Research Laboratories to form the Research Facilities Center, an organization that provided both airborne platform and engineering capabilities to NOAA’s research community. In 1975 and 1976 the RFC received the two new WP-3D research aircraft and replaced the aging DC-6, B-57A and DC-4 aircraft.

In 1983, the Office of Aircraft Operations (OAO) was created to consolidate all of the aviation assets operated by NOAA. The OAO was charged with managing NOAA aircraft, personnel, budget, facilities and the charter of aircraft in support of NOAA aircraft programs. By the mid 1980s, the OAO consisted of two WP-3D Orions, a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, a Beech C-90 King Air, two Rockwell Aero Commanders, a Rockwell Turbo Commander and two Bell 212 helicopters.

In the early 1990s, the OAO was designated the Aircraft Operations Center (AOC) and moved to MacDill AFB in Tampa, Florida in January of 1993. The NOAA Aircraft Operations Center operated and maintained a Gulfstream GIV-SP high altitude research aircraft acquired in 1996, the two WP-3D Orions, the two Rockwell (now Gulfstream) Aero Commanders, the Rockwell (now Gulfstream) Turbo Commander, a Cessna Citation II, two De Havilland Twin Otters, one Bell 212 and one MD 369 (Hughes 500) helicopter and two Aerofab Lake amphibian aircraft.

NOAA’s aircraft operate throughout the United States and around the world: over open ocean, mountains, coastal wetlands and Arctic pack ice. NOAA’s mission is to describe and predict changes in the Earth’s environment and to conserve and manage wisely the nation’s coastal and marine resources. The hard working and very specialized NOAA aircraft directly support this mission by providing scientists with unique platforms to precisely observe, measure and chart the dynamics of our oceans and our atmosphere.

Today, NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center is located on Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida. The facility houses the two Lockheed WP-3D Orions, one Gulfstream GIV-SP, one Gulfstream Turbo Commander, one Beechcraft King Air 350ER, and four de Havilland Twin Otters. AOC also serves as a work place for more than 100 NOAA Corps Officers and civil servants. AOC, previously located at MacDill AFB in Tampa Florida, moved to Lakeland in July 2017.

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About the Author

Mark is an airline pilot flying the Boeing 737 for a major European airline. In addition he is also a Type Rating Instructor, Type Rating Examiner and Base Training Captain on the B737. Outside of commercial flying Mark enjoys flying light aircraft from the smallest 3 Axis microlights up to heavier singles. He is also an instructor and EASA Examiner on single engines and a UK CAA Examiner. He flies the Chipmunk for the Irish Historic Flight Foundation (IHFF). Mark became the Chairman of the National Microlight Association of Ireland (NMAI) in 2013 and has overseen a massive growth in the organisation. In this role he has worked at local and national levels. In 2015, Mark won ‘Upcoming Aviation Professional Award’ at the Aviation Industry Awards sponsored by the IAA. Mark launched this website back in 2002 while always managing the website, he has also been Editor and Deputy Editor of FlyingInIreland Magazine from 2005 to 2015.

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