Longest endurance inside a tropical cyclone by an uncrewed aircraft
Altius-600, Area-I, NOAA
102 minute(s)
United States ()

The longest survival by an uncrewed aircraft in a hurricane is 102 minutes, achieved by an Altius-600 drone which flew into the eye of Hurricane Ian, a category 4 storm, on 28 September 2022. The weather observation variant of the Altius-600 is the result of a collaboration between Area-I and NOAA (both USA). It was deployed into the storm northwest of the Florida Keys by an NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircaft.

The Altius-600 was deployed from a pneumatic tube that launched it through the bottom of the fuselage of the NOAA's WP-3D Orion "Kermit" as it flew over the eye of the hurricane.

Once deployed, the drone operated largely autonomously, getting a fix on the centre of the eye at around 4,500 ft and then following instructions to seek out the highest wind speeds inside the storm. It recorded a peak wind speed of 188 knots (348 km/h; 216 mph) at an altitude of approximately 2,150 ft. The drone continued to send data back to Kermit until the mothership was 130 nautical miles away (240 km; 149 mi).

The Altius-600 is a small, 27-lb (12.24-kg) propellor-powered aircraft, with folding wings that extend to a wingspan of 8 ft 4 in (2.54 m) on launch. It is designed to be deployed from a 6-inch-diameter (15.2-cm) pneumatic tube, and can carry a payload of up to 7 lb (3.1 kg) a distance of 276 mi (444 km). For the 28 September flight, it was carrying instruments to measure temperature, humidity, pressure and wind speed.

The key advantage that this system offers is the duration of observations it can provide from inside a storm. Previously, NOAA scientists have had to rely on dropsondes (small packages of sensors that are dropped into the storm) but these provide only a momentary snapshot of conditions at different altitudes as they plummet down to the surface.