For the 'Hurricane Hunters,' — scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — who fly into hurricanes, it's not a good flight unless there's turbulence.
Commander Michele Finn joined MSNBC's Tucker Carlson just after returning from a surveillance mission around Hurricane Rita in a plane.
TUCKER CARLSON: Commander Finn, thanks a lot for coming on. How was your trip?
CMDR. MICHELE FINN: Actually it was a pretty good trip.
CARLSON: Flying into a hurricane was a good trip? Well tell us about it. What did the hurricane look like? We've been seeing representations of it all day on the tube but when you actually look out the window and see it what do you see?
FINN: Well, obviously it's intensifying so, you know, we are up at flight level 410, 41,000 to 45,000 feet. It looks a little bit different to us than it does for our NOAA P3s or the Air Force C-130s.
We climbed up to 410 (41,000-45,000 feet) right away, started flying to the south around the storm, headed down to the western tip of Cuba, shot the gap between Cuba and the Yucatan and then started weaving our way back up the western side of the storm and it was a pretty moderate flight for us.
CARLSON: For you, yes. When we last spoke to you, you had just taken a look at Katrina from the air. How would you compare these two storms?
FINN: They're very, very similar from my point of view up at that altitude. When we were flying it was obviously intensifying. The aircraft that were lower were reporting pressures dropping and, you know, it was obviously increasing.
CARLSON: So, it's a scary looking storm then?
FINN: It's a very scary looking storm and this one has hit me personally. I went to school at Texas A&M at Galveston, so I have lots of friends and acquaintances still in that area.
CARLSON: Now, I know that when you're up in the air you drop devices into the storm is that right?
FINN: That's right. ... We drop (a) device out in the storm. We actually released about 28 of them today and (a) parachute will fly up and start slowing down the descent and (an) instrument will measure pressure, temperature, wind speed, direction as it drops from the aircraft up at flight level 410 to 450 down to the surface, send that information back to the aircraft and then we package the information and send it back to the meteorologists at the hurricane center.
CARLSON: So, who's the guy with the job of tossing those things out the window at 40,000 feet?
FINN: Actually we had two birthday boys tossing them out today and actually they don't toss it out of the window. We have a pressurized drop tube in the back of the airplane, so they drop them out every 15 to 20 minutes.
CARLSON: What's the turbulence like as you're flying around the storm?
FINN: We only encountered slight turbulence, very, very, very slight turbulence today. I'm expecting it to get a little bit more interesting tomorrow and Friday.
CARLSON: These storms are so huge and so powerful, I don't need to tell you. Are you ever concerned about the structural integrity of the plane?
FINN: No, I'm not. We basically when we're flying up at flight level 410 to 450, my job is to avoid all of the major convection at our altitude and we've got a great radar. I've got a meteorologist that backs me up avoiding that weather. And, as far as the plane goes, we've got great maintenance technicians working on it, so I really don't worry about my aircraft.
CARLSON: So, the plane can handle a pretty rough ride then?
FINN: That's right but the goal is to not make it go through any major turbulence.
CARLSON: What's the roughest you've had?
FINN: We've had a couple, a couple hits of moderate turbulence where we lose a couple hundred feet, lose and gain a couple hundred feet but that's really usually pretty short lived.
CARLSON: Boy, if I dropped a couple hundred feet in a plane I'd be concerned.
FINN: Well, our co-workers on the P3 pretty much experience a little bit more glory and a little bit more activity down at lower altitudes.