The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will continue to use Raytheon’s tube-launched Coyote unmanned air vehicle to track hurricanes, following a successful upgrade to the system that has increased its endurance and range.
The Coyote, an expendable system, was the first unmanned vehicle to fly directly into a hurricane, in 2014, when it was launched from the belly of an NOAA-operated Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion into Hurricane Edouard. The upgraded variant will continue this legacy of tracking and modelling storms over the Atlantic Ocean.
"We are under contract with NOAA to support development and initial use of Coyotes in the hurricane research programme," John Hobday, business development lead for Raytheon Unmanned Systems, tells Flightglobal. "This has been an ongoing collaborative development with NOAA for several years that is now going operational."
Raytheon says "significant improvements” have been made to Coyote, increasing endurance to 1h and range to 50nm (92km), from the launch aircraft.
It has not disclosed the previous performance figures for the UAV. However, it notes Coyote is the subject of a continuous upgrade cycle, with another capability rise due later this year.
"In terms of range, the only limiting factor is maintaining communications with the Coyote relaying back atmospheric sensor data," Hobday says. "The objectives for the recent NOAA test [were] 1h endurance and 50 mile range, which we met."
Designed to deploy from an A-size sonobuoy common launch tube, the UAV was originally developed by BAE Systems but was acquired by Raytheon in January 2015.
A joint NOAA/Raytheon team will be responsible for operating the Coyote to track storms during the hurricane season, and the move follows recently conducted flight tests over Avon Park in Florida, during which it was launched from a P-3 to prepare for deployment, Raytheon says.
Hurricane season in the Atlantic is typically from June to November, and the manufacturer "will be on-call with our support team when the season starts", Hobday says.
The Coyote is also being offered to the US Department of Defense for a number of different missions including off-board sensing and swarming, he says.