The new home base for the U.S. government’s “hurricane hunter” aircraft is on schedule to open before the Atlantic hurricane season begins, Lakeland Linder Regional Airport officials said. The city was awarded a 10 year lease to house the planes.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s planes are specially equipped to collect forecasting data as they fly in and around tropical storms and hurricanes. NOAA’s Aircraft Operation Center serves as the main base for NOAA’s fleet of nine specialized environmental data-gathering aircraft, including the agency’s three “hurricane hunter” planes. The agency’s aircraft are scheduled to move May 1 to Lakeland from MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.
Since December, up to 80 workers have been on site each day rebuilding a hanger to accommodate the large aircraft, Airport Manager Gene Conrad told The Ledger.
“It’s moving at light speed,” Conrad said.
The $17.5 million project also includes a science lab, an operational hub and a maintenance shop. NOAA is covering about $4.5 million of the cost, the state is taking on $6.5 million, and the airport is covering another $6.5 million.
Airport Business Manager John Von Preysing said NOAA’s move to the Lakeland airport brings 110 “highly technical” jobs to the city.
Two of the “hurricane hunters” got major upgrades to their engines, wings and radar over the last two years in their cavernous hanger at MacDill. The Air Force told NOAA last year that it needed the hangar space, and NOAA had to move its aircraft by July 1, 2017.
The six-month Atlantic hurricane season starts June 1.
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