Aircraft Reconnaissance

Contents:

Tropical Globe's Live Reconnaissance System

  • Tropical Globe has live reconnaissance in the Atlantic, East Pacific and Central Pacific basins for the U.S. Air Force and NOAA hurricane hunters. Dropsonde data from the NASA Global Hawk is also available when the data is relayed in the same way as NOAA dropsondes. Sometimes dropsonde data is also available in the West Pacific near Taiwan as part of Taiwan's DOTSTAR (Dropwindsonde Observations for Typhoon Surveillance near the Taiwan Region) project.

    For a tutorial on how to use our recon system, and for additional informative info, such as on some of the aircraft used in reconnaissance, click here.

National Hurricane Center's (NHC) Aircraft Reconnaissance

  • Plan of the Day: For Today | For Tomorrow
    Site Thumbnail The Plan of the Day details planned recon missions. To view how to read the Plan of the Day, click here. The Plan of the Day is often released around 11am to noon Eastern time daily during the hurricane season. The "For Tomorrow" link contains the most recently released Plan of the Day. The "For Today" link is the prior issued Plan of the Day, usually from the previous day. If a Plan of the Day is corrected, then both links might have data from the same day. You can view older plans here if that happens.

    We also include the contents of the "About the Reconnaissance Plan of the Day" page noted above:

    These are the definitions for the fields A-G of the Aircraft Reconnaissance Plan of the Day.
    Summer Plan
    A. Fix/Invest Time
    B. Mission Identifier
    C. Departure Time
    D. Forecast Position
    E. Time on Station
    F. Altitude(s) on Station
    G. Remarks (if needed)
    Winter Plan
    A. Track/Control Point/Time
    B. Mission Identifier
    C. Departure Time
    D. Drops Required/Added Positions
    E. Altitude/Expiration Time
    F. Remarks (if needed)
    Source: National Hurricane Operations Plan, Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorological Services and Supporting Research, (FCM-P12-2003), U.S. Department of Commerce / National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
  • In this near real-time archive you can access raw text data from the NHC from 1989 to the present. It might take about 15 to 30 minutes before data appears in the archive.

Sites of the Hurricane Hunters

  • Air Force Hurricane Hunters (Website | Twitter | Facebook)
    Site Thumbnail The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (view Wikipedia entry) is part of the 403rd Wing (view Wikipedia entry), part of the U.S. Air Force. You can view a fact sheet here about the Air Force hurricane hunters. For news, click here to view news articles on the Air Force's website. You can view an article here about the coordination between the hurricane hunters and the NHC.
  • NOAA Hurricane Hunters (Website | Twitter | Facebook)
    Site Thumbnail The NOAA Hurricane Hunters (view Wikipedia entry) are part of the Department of Commerce.
  • NASA Hurricanes / Tropical Cyclones (Website | Twitter | Facebook)
    Site Thumbnail NASA has an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), the Global Hawk, which can fly up to about 24 hours over a storm. NASA also has other aircraft used in tropical research missions that our site does not track. You can track NASA aircraft here.

Other Data & Information

  • Hurricane reconnaissance first occurred in 1943. Our reconnaissance archive only has data since 1989 since that is when the NHC's Reconnaissance Data Archive starts. Our reconnaissance system has a page about reconnaissance data that is not available in our site's recon archive, including where to find raw data prior to 1989. NOAA's Hurricane Research Division (HRD) also has a lot of data on their site from NOAA missions in and around storms, much of which is not available through our site.
  • NOAA's HRD site usually contains additional information for NOAA recon. As of updating this section in 2020, data in 2020 was not being posted to that older page on their site. On the new "Data" page you can find the "Hurricane Data" section. In 2020, that section has a link to the "Hurricane Field Program". That links to the page here for the 2020 hurricane season. While this contains some informative data, it doesn't contain storm data as of posting this like the old site did. There is a massive amount of raw data available at https://seb.noaa.gov/pub/ and some of that data is available in real time. That site is where our site used to get NOAA P-3 radar data, before their lower fuselage radar was upgraded and the data was no longer available in a format our site could easily process.
  • Their blog has a lot of great information, especially about NOAA missions.
  • Other Sites to Access Decoded U.S. Air Force and NOAA Recon Data
    These sites also contain decoded reconnaissance data. As with our site, they may contain errors and may not be available at times.
  • Other Sites to Track NOAA and NASA Aircraft
    NASA Airborne Science Tracker (also tracks NOAA aircraft):
    • NOAA42 (Lockheed WP-3D Orion - "Kermit")
    • NOAA43 (Lockheed WP-3D Orion - "Miss Piggy")
    • NOAA49 (Gulfstream IV-SP - G-IV - "Gonzo")
    When active, NASA's Global Hawk aircraft, an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), will have tracking data in that display. Our site does not provide tracking data for that type of aircraft. We do include dropsonde data on our site from that aircraft type if the data is relayed in the same way as NOAA dropsondes.
  • Other Sites to Track U.S. Air Force and NOAA Aircraft
    These sites don't contain information about a storm that the aircraft might be in or around. Some might show the location of the aircraft and perhaps the altitude and speed of the aircraft. When observations in our recon system are not available, you may want to check these links to see if these sites have tracking data for the plane you want to locate. Some of these sites might have data when the aircraft is near land and not have data when the aircraft is further away from land. Sometimes they might not have any data or intermittent data. It might be able to let you confirm that an aircraft is possibly in the air if reconnaissance messages are not available. That could let you know if you might possibly see the data come in later. If the sites below don't have current tracking data for the aircraft you are trying to locate, do not assume that the aircraft is not performing a mission. The sites below may often not have data.

    PlaneFinder.net may have data from the past few months. RadarBox.com may have data from the past seven days. (older data is not free) FlightAware.com may have data from the past 14 days. (3 months if you register for free) FlightAware does not have much data from the ten Lockheed WC-130J Hercules aircraft that the U.S. Air Force use for their reconnaissance. Some of the FlightAware links below may return no data at all for those aircraft.

    Track Air Force's Lockheed WC-130J Hercules aircraft (AF300 to AF309 in our recon system): Track NOAA's Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft (NOAA2 and NOAA3 in our recon system): Track NOAA's Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) aircraft (NOAA9 in our recon system): The registration number for each aircraft is located above. NOAA aircraft have FAA N-Numbers. The Air Force has serial numbers. The first two digits of the Air Force serial numbers may represent the year the aircraft was ordered. (96 - 1996, 99 - 1999)
  • Site Thumbnail Chapter 5 and Appendix G of the National Hurricane Operations Plan can be read for an understanding of how our site's recon system works.

    Historical versions of NHOP are below. The years 2005 to 2014 are hard to find since NOAA and the Office of the Federal Coordinator for Meteorology (OFCM) have rearranged their sites. We have added those to our site.

    - 2015 through present
    - 2005 to 2014: 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
    - 1967 to 2004

    The page for other plans, such as the National Winter Storms Operations Plan (NWSOP), is here.
  • Table 2 from research paper This is a research paper about the estimated reduction factors that can help estimate the surface winds in storms based on flight level winds. This table is from that research paper. "Table 2" is the "Recommended operational wind adjustment factors for adjusting reconnaissance flight-level winds to the surface, for the hurricane-eyewall and outer-vortex regions". You can view the paper here.
  • NOAA/NCEP Real Time Data Monitoring System (to determine if any dropsondes were added to the GFS)
    Site Thumbnail This National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) page has links that can let you know how many dropsondes have been added into the GFS. Once on the page above, look for "Model Data Dump Tables".

    If you want to simply view the number of sondes that have been added into the particular run, click "GFS" next to "View the latest model data text summary". On the next page, look for "dropw", which is "Dropwinsonde (from TEMP DROP)". You will see the number added under the "Hourly Count" column.

    If you want to see the number of sondes added for that particular run each day over the past month, in a graph, go back to the "Model Data Dump Tables" section on the original page. Under "GFS", click the run you want to look at. (00z, 06z, 12z or 18z) On the next page, click "dropw". You will see a chart that has the count added for each day for that particular GFS run you are looking at. The monthly average count is also available for that run, which was also available on the previous page noted. The page here says that dropsonde data is "usually from TPC or USAF (CARCAH) or occasionally from non U.S. sources".

    The product with the header "NOUS42 KWNO" might also sometimes tell you about dropsonde data. You can access it at any of the following links. "ADMSDM" below is for Administrative Messages from the Senior Duty Meteorologist (SDM).
    This product was previously "ADMNFD". In 2020 it changed to ADASDM (Alert Administrative Message) and ADMSDM (Administrative Message), but kept the same WMO header, "NOUS42 KWNO". Because only one message is displayed at a time for some sites, an archive is helpful. On an archive page, search within the page by pressing the "Ctrl + F" keys to search for the word "sonde" among all the messages for the month. You can also find an archive on this site, where messages are grouped by month.
  • Flhurricane.com Decoder (for older vortex and supplementary vortex messages)
    In 2018 the vortex message format changed. Our site's vortex decoder decodes both the old and new format. The vortex decoder at flhurricane.com only decodes the old format as of updating this page. However, their site's decoder can also decode the older supplementary vortex message which is no longer used. Our decoder does not decode supplementary vortex messages and we do not have that raw data archived on our site.
  • Pictures of U.S. Air Force, NOAA and NASA Aircraft
    You can find some pictures below of the various aircraft that our site decodes data for.

    Pictures of U.S. Air Force's Lockheed WC-130J Hercules aircraft (AF300 to AF309 in our recon system): Pictures of NOAA's Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft (NOAA2 and NOAA3 in our recon system): Pictures of NOAA's Gulfstream IV-SP (G-IV) aircraft (NOAA9 in our recon system): Pictures of NASA's Northrop Grumman RQ-4A Global Hawk aircraft (usually NA871 and NA872 in our recon system): NA871 (AV-1) has been retired. NA874 might eventually be used. Some of the links for NASA above don't have any pictures, or very few. The ones that have more are presented first. (some links use the N-Number and some the serial number)
Page last modified on August 22, 2020