2353: Hurricane Hunters
Title text: Our flight gathered valuable data on whether a commercial airliner in the eye of a hurricane can do a loop.
The comic strip opens with Black Hat explaining to Cueball (who is presumed to be some government official) that flying into hurricanes, while risky, provides valuable scientific data. Although the eye itself is relatively calm, it is surrounded by the eyewall, a region of extremely intense thunderstorms. Thus, the danger of flying through such storms must be carefully weighed against the scientific knowledge being gained. In the real world, such missions are conducted by highly-trained pilots with specialized aircraft, such as the NOAA Hurricane Hunters and the US Air Force's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (also nicknamed "Hurricane Hunters").
However, Cueball's comment in the third panel shows that Black Hat is not discussing the activity of hurricane hunting in general, but rather is attempting to justify his decision to fly a passenger jet through the eye of a hurricane. Passenger airliners are not meant to fly into hurricanes, and can easily crash there. It's not clear if Black Hat is (somehow) a jet pilot himself, has come into ownership of an airline and was merely directing a flight, or, probably most likely, simply hijacked the flight he happened to be on, but the commercial jet passengers were not expecting to "participate" in a hurricane hunting mission. Black Hat replies that, instead of being upset, the passengers should be proud of their contributions to meteorology, but their contribution is probably negligible, as they were not actively collecting useful scientific data.
This comic is likely referencing both Hurricane Laura, which was active during the week prior to this comic strip's publication, and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2020, which players have been utilising the software's ability to simulate real-time weather to fly into and explore the (virtual) aforementioned hurricane. At the time the comic was released, the simulator only had passenger aircraft available to pilot, echoing Black Hat's flying of a commercial jet into a hurricane. A similar situation where historical/well-documented experimental techniques are used in inappropriate situations occurs in 1594: Human Subjects, albeit by test subjects rather than “researchers”, if Black Hat can be called that.
In the title text, Black Hat says that their flight gathered data on "whether a commercial airliner... can do a loop. This could imply that he did not, as he "gathered data" not "Demonstrated" (E.g. "I gathered data on whether a rocket could hit the sun"). Alternatively, this could imply that he did do it, and that his gathering data was attempting it (E.g. "I gathered data on whether I could jump 50cm").
The Boeing 707 was made to successfully execute a barrel roll and fly inverted during a 1955 test flight. If no flight envelope protections are active, barrel rolls are possible with any aircraft and any helicopter, because the aircraft and its fuel systems only experience mild and positive g loads, never negative ones. Likewise, the air flow stays the same as in level flight. Problematic is ending the barrel roll, as there is a possibility of exceeding the safe speed limits.
Loops are a lot more problematic because of the speeds reached when ending the maneuver, and the speed needed to begin it. But like the barrel roll, a loop can be flown while only experiencing mild and positive g loads. In fact, Harold E. Thompson flew several loopings in a Sikorsky S-52, a helicopter first flown in 1947. Prolonged inverted flights, though, cause negative g forces, an altered air flow, and cause havoc with the fuel systems, parts of which are gravity-driven. Aircraft that can fly inverted for longer than a few seconds are specifically designed, for example aerobatic aircraft and fighter jets.
It is possible that this is his justification of why the flight contributed to meteorology. However, passenger airliners' abilities to do loops has nothing to do with that field of science. Moreover, the same data could be gathered by flying the same airliner without passengers, or with willing ones.
- [Black hat facing left]
- Black Hat: Yes, flying into the eye of a hurricane is dangerous.
- [Cueball on left at a desk being addressed by Black Hat on the right]
- Black Hat: But it provides us with crucial data that helps us understand and predict these storms.
- [Same as previous cell, with Black Hat raising his hand]
- Cueball: But your passengers had bought tickets to St. Louis.
- Black Hat: They should be proud of our contributions to meteorology!
- Everything on Cueball's desk has gone missing in panel 3.
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