The Orion P3s
In 1973 it was decided that the DC6s were reaching the end of their useful life, and that NOAA, NHRL, and RFF needed to make a major financial commitment to an upgrade of the air fleet. A C130 had been obtained, but more airplatforms were needed. NHRL and RFF went through a period of belt tightening, including reductions in staff and cancelling all STORMFURY flights for three years, in order to finance the purchase of two Lockeed P3 Orions. P3s had been used by the USN as sub hunters and proved to be reliable workhorses. The new aircraft were outfitted with the latest in computers and weather instruments, including three different radar antenna on each aircraft. The quality of the field data was boosted considerably when these planes became available in 1975 and 1976.
In 1980 NHEML was organizationally placed under the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorology Laboratories (AOML), a group of Miami-based NOAA laboratories which had been housed on Virginia Key since 1973. Two years later the Experimental Meteorological Laboratory portion of NHEML was separated and moved to Boulder, Colorado and the Lab was again called NHRL. Another year later NHRL was moved physically out to AOML on Virginia Key, ending 25 years of co-location with NHC. NHRL was then renamed the Hurricane Research Division (HRD), its current sobriquet, when AOML was redesignated a single Laboratory.
The NOAA C130 was decommissioned in 1981, leaving only the two P3s to carry on hurricane research. To compensate for this the instrumentation on the P3s was greatly improved, with Knollenberg cloud physics probes installed, and in 1982 Doppler processing added to the tail radars. Doppler allowed scientists to derive the hurricane's wind fields by either using radar data from both planes, from a plane and a land based Doppler radar, or even from the same airplane radar from two perpendicular legs. Instead of just having wind information from along the aircraft's track, the wind field from the entire inner core could be mapped out. This provided researchers with greater insight into hurricane structure and dynamics.
The Knollenberg probes allowed HRD cloud physicists to image individual cloud particles by using an array of laser diodes. As particles pass through the array a laser shadow is cast upon the receiving diodes and the image of the particle is entered into memory. Scientists can see what sort of particles they are flying through in real time, whether rain, graupel, ice, or needles. Also the FSSP probe allows the instantaneous compilation of particle size statistics.
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