A pilot and engineer literally went into ‘the eye of the storm’ when they flew a plane into Hurricane Irma.
The category five hurricane, currently hitting the Caribbean islands Barbuda, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, is heading towards Florida.
The footage of the plane flying through Irma was captured by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) engineer Nick Underwood, who was sitting in the back.
Underwood’s job was to deploy scientific instruments known as ‘dropsondes’, which would be swept up by Irma’s winds.
The instruments help measure and predict the movement of the hurricane, which in-turn helps governments and local authorities prepare and coordinate for the oncoming devastation.
According to pilot Lieutenant Robert Mitchell, he and Underwood had “been flying into Irma for three days”. Before that they we’re ‘looking hard into’ Hurricane Harvey.
Lt. Mitchell explained:
It’s been interesting. The storms have been very strong and Irma especially being so far out in the Atlantic, it’s rare that we get to fly in the same storm for so long. It’s going to be a long journey ahead for us, so we’re trying to pace ourselves.
Hurricane Irma’s oncoming collision comes just days after Hurricane Harvey has relented its damage on Houston, Texas. Experts have labelled Irma a category five hurricane, making it the most powerful ever storm recorded in the Atlantic.
Underwood’s footage shows the potential devastation as he and his pilot fly straight into the eye of the storm, the violent winds are shaking the aircraft and at one point it looks as if the pilot may lose control.
When we spoke to Nick he told us being in ‘the eye of Irma is surreal’:
You’ve just gone through some of the roughest weather on the planet in the eyewall, and then everything is just calm and beautiful.
Going through the eyewall is like being on the longest wooden roller coaster of your life.
There’s certainly some bumps and sounds that will widen your eyes and have you pull your seatbelt a little tighter, but I was never scared. We review and drill emergency procedures constantly, and the people taking care of the airplane and flying it are the best out there.
Mitchell described his experience flying into Hurricane Irma:
[It’s] very strong, the eye is really big. Typically it’s only four or five minutes of sever turbulence as we go in, but Irma has been giving us a good ride for about 10 minutes.
When you get into the middle, there’s nothing quite like seeing the blue sky above and the clouds all around you. It kind of makes it all worth it. We all get awe struck for a second, and then we have to focus on finding the centre.
Still, being in such a volatile environment would cause even the most battle-hardened veteran to shake in their boots just a little bit, after all there’s no weapon more powerful than Mother Nature.
However Mitchell said on ‘missions’ like these:
We don’t like to think about it as dangerous. We’ve been doing it for many many years. Many of the people on the plane have over 30 years experience of flying into hurricanes.
In order to remain calm and focused on the mission Nick explained that:
Any nerves are suppressed by the knowledge that what I’m doing is important to public safety.
He went on to tell us:
The approach to the storm goes by quickly. I listen to music and check all of the equipment I’m responsible for to make sure it’s working. Once you’re in the storm heading towards the eye, things get a little crazy. Trying to operate the science equipment is a little more difficult when you’re getting bounced around.
In my head, it was a mix of jamming to some tunes, patiently awaiting radio calls, and then “Wow.”
Despite the obvious danger involved in a task such as this, Nick let us know that he loves his job and that he had ‘No second thoughts’ about flying into one of the most devastating hurricanes this side of the Atlantic.
For more information on Hurricane Harvey head over to the National Hurricane Centre./UNILAD