The annotation for this CNN video says

Air Force plane flies into Hurricane Florence

Watch as a US Air Force plane flies into the eye of Hurricane Florence to collect weather data for the National Hurricane Center. Source: CNN

But I can't find any information on what kind of plane this is nor how it safely got into the eye in order to record this.

Would they generally fly through the storm at this altitude, or do they fly above it to reach the eye, then "drop down" into the eye?

The video is also viewable here where the footage is between 00:24 and 00:40.

eye of Hurricane Florence

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    $\begingroup$ related: aviation.stackexchange.com/q/43587/1467 (disclaimer: my question) $\endgroup$
    – Federico
    Sep 13, 2018 at 6:18
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 If the answer for the NOAA's P3 Orion and the answer for the Air Force's plane in this question is identical, then yes possible. But of the answers are different because the planes are different, then perhaps not. Per this answer this might be a C-130, but I have no idea. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 13, 2018 at 14:37
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    $\begingroup$ @ymb1 this Air Force craft certainly looks more like a P-3 than a C-130, I'll vote to close as well. bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-45506952/… $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 14, 2018 at 0:05

2 Answers 2


They fly straight through, as part of their mission to collect meteorological data about the storm, used for forecasting (NOAA's G-IV fleet flies the periphery of storms to collect data used to help predict the path of hurricanes). A typical path:

We'd begin by making a "figure 4," with the vertical and the horizontal legs crossing at the center of the eye.

This image shows the flight path taken during one observation of Hurricane Patricia in 2015 (from this blog post).

Wikipedia has information about "hurricane hunter" operations, and Google produces many, many results about how these flights work, including videos (even an entire documentary series) and interviews with the crews that fly them. Here's a recent news story featuring an interview with an Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer who flew into Hurricane Florence.

The US Air Force's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron flies the WC-130 (a C-130 variant equipped with meteorological observation equipment and dropsonde deployment capability). Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flies a fleet of two WP-3D Orion aircraft (modified P-3 Orions) and one Gulfstream IV, which flies around the periphery of storms to collect weather data.

You can plot their exact flight paths on Google Earth, if you're so inclined.

The Hurricane Hunter Association's site also addresses this question in their FAQ:

Do you fly over the top of the hurricane? NO!!

The tops of a big hurricane can be over 50,000 feet high, and our planes could never get up there (they can only go up to 30,000 feet). Besides, the weather we're interested in is down at the bottom of the storm, where it will affect the coastline it hits. For this reason, we fly in as low as possible and still be safe. This altitude can be anywhere from 1,000 feet to 10,000 feet.

They also include an image of their typical "alpha" flight path, typically making four passes through the center of the storm.

  • $\begingroup$ I see, thanks! So the images shown by CNN, while beauitiful, are secondary to what the National Hurricane Center and the Air Force plane are there to do. Also, thank you for the Google Earth link, I will look into that soon! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 13, 2018 at 9:32
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    $\begingroup$ Only 53 people have died doing this since 1943... can't believe it is so safe... $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Sep 13, 2018 at 10:31
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    $\begingroup$ for more info on the actual planes used - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_WP-3D_Orion $\endgroup$ Sep 13, 2018 at 14:14

The US Air Force 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's main task is to gather data about storms. They fly C-130s into and around storms including hurricanes.


  • $\begingroup$ Not a very complete answer $\endgroup$
    – Cloud
    Sep 13, 2018 at 10:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Cloud at least it answers the "what kind of plane" part of the question, and provides the Air Force unit that flies them, neither of which is in the other answer. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Sep 13, 2018 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @fooot, except there are three kinds of planes (WP-3D Orion, C-130 and Gulfstream IV) and the Orion is the one that does the most daring low altitude penetration (and carries the biggest radar). $\endgroup$
    – Jan Hudec
    Sep 13, 2018 at 20:16
  • $\begingroup$ bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-45506952/… $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Sep 14, 2018 at 11:06

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