2353: Hurricane Hunters

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Hurricane Hunters
Our flight gathered valuable data on whether a commercial airliner in the eye of a hurricane can do a loop.
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[citation needed], and can easily crash there. It's not clear if Black Hat is (somehow) a jet pilot himself, or has come into ownership of an airline and was merely directing a flight, 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. 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 the possibility of making loops in the eye of the hurricane by passenger airliners, but if it had actually done a loop, he probably would have said so.

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.

Another passenger jet that was barrel-rolled is the Concorde. Pilots Brian Walpole and Jean Franchi did on a test flight - not once, but several times.

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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St. Louis people coming here to see if it's coincidence or if Randell was using location services for the destination.

Where did the stuff on the desk go?

Well, Black Hat is present in the room... 16:27, 31 August 2020 (UTC)
ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:36, 31 August 2020 (UTC)

Re: St. Louis - I'm not in St. Louis, but it still reads St. Louis for me. 17:02, 31 August 2020 (UTC)

Considering the rock-bottom prices offered by airlines recently ($15 for a ticket on Delta or United?!?), it might not be too hard to fill a plane with people who just want to go on a dangerous joyride in a 747. Let's try some loops! ProphetZarquon (talk) 17:39, 31 August 2020 (UTC)

Reminds me of https://youtube.com/watch?v=zmKXC9CYZwU (the aerobatics part). 19:11, 31 August 2020 (UTC)

Is it purposeful that the description includes a line from the Hamilton song "Hurricane"? ("In the eye of a hurricane, there is quiet for just a moment, a yellow sky.")

"(In the) eye of a hurricane(/storm/cyclone/...)"? A fairly standard phrase, at least since we had satellite photos to get a large enough overview of prime examples; though a well-defined eyewall (if survived) probably gave everyone the appreciation of the 'arena effect' in that time between the eye passing over them and then departing (requiring further survival) that could bring even primitive man the concept of an 'eye' in the weather. Tried to track down first usage. OED seems to give us "1758 J. Adams tr. A. de Ulloa Voy. S.-Amer. II. ii. iii. 213 The cloud..begins, according to the sailors phrase, to open its eye, i.e. the cloud breaks, and the part of the horizon where it was formed becomes clear.", though whether that's referencing the centre of a full hurricane or not, I don't know... 03:27, 1 September 2020 (UTC)

I don't think that Black Hat as a jet pilot would go to prison in real world. I think he would DIE in his attempt and they rarely put dead people in prison, especially if the body wasn't found. -- Hkmaly (talk) 03:53, 1 September 2020 (UTC)

Don't think he particularly cares. Beret Guy probably would survive, but he'd just hallucinate the bars away. Cueball would make the control panel flash some weird error before taking off.
This feels weirdly fun, actually. bubblegum-talk|contribs 06:05, 1 September 2020 (UTC)
I updated the line. Really I thought black hats didn't go to prison because they kept themselves anonymous, but instead I mentioned security firms and organized crime. 00:38, 3 September 2020 (UTC)

For people who would like to read what that job is on a bad day: https://tailspinstales.blogspot.com/2011/05/hunting-hugo.html lG Tier666 (who has lost his password...) 10:37, 1 September 2020 (UTC)

In this rev, NotaBene writes that "the passengers wanted to go to St. Louis, Missouri, which is only very rarely struck by hurricanes …, so presumably the jet was taken quite far out of its way". This presumes facts not in evidence — we have no idea where the flight originated from, and there are plenty of flights to St. Louis from places such as Houston, TX and New Orleans, LA that travel fairly near to the track of Hurricane Laura. I'm not really sure the best way to save this portion of the explanation without gutting it entirely, hence this post here. JohnHawkinson (talk) 05:47, 3 September 2020 (UTC)

Some time ago, I adjusted the rest of the sentence to no longer read "taken far out of its way", but instead refer to the more solidly-built fact that they weren't expecting to fly into a hurricane because, wherever they came from, they were flying to the middle of the country. --NotaBene (talk) 19:14, 3 September 2020 (UTC)
Yes, I debated whether to quote the current text or the original. The current is equally problematic: "but the passengers wanted to go to St. Louis, Missouri, which is only very rarely struck by hurricanes …, so they were certainly not expecting to "participate" in a hurricane hunting mission." If the location is relevant at all, then the frequency of St. Louis's hurricane vulnerability is still only half the picture and fails to support a conclusion about the passengers' expectations. I would probably take out more of the text than you would, so I suggest you do it, but I guess I can if you don't want to. JohnHawkinson (talk) 19:54, 3 September 2020 (UTC)
You are correct, I removed negative text.  :) --NotaBene (talk) 20:44, 3 September 2020 (UTC) 03:26, 14 September 2020 (UTC) isnt this a reference to Interstellar, where Professor Brand says they needed crucial data to calculate how to save Earth collected from within a black hole albeit entering it is dangerous?