Hurricane Sandy has slammed onto the eastern seaboard. There's been widespread damage and flooding across more than six states. There's been loss of life. But at NASA, researchers are developing a pair of experimental unmanned drones to track future storms in the hope of being better prepared for when they strike.
That would be the high-flying Global Hawk, used by the Air Force to spy on insurgents in Afghanistan. But it's also able to double for hurricane-hunting missions. They can stay in the air for longer than manned flights — up to 30 hours — giving the drones a much larger "window of opportunity" to fly into a hurricane, and can travel much farther and at higher altitudes than manned planes. When NASA flew one of its Global Hawks toward Hurricane Nadine in September, it sent the drone all the way into the eastern Atlantic, much farther out than the NOAA's WP-3D Orion planes can reach.