NOAA provides a wide range of specialized airborne environmental data collection capabilities vital to understanding the Earth, conserving and managing coastal and marine resources, and protecting lives and property.
NOAA’s fleet of nine manned aircraft is operated, managed and maintained by NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center (AOC), part NOAA's Office of Marine and Aviation Operations. Located at Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in Lakeland, Florida, AOC serves as the main base for OMAO’s fleet and provides capable, mission-ready aircraft and professional crews to the scientific community. AOC is committed to the safe, efficient and economical use of NOAA aircraft and has more than four decades of experience developing, coordinating and successfully and safely conducting airborne environmental data gathering missions.
For information on requesting NOAA aircraft support, please contact the aircraft scheduler at _OMAO.NOAA.Aircraft_Scheduling@noaa.gov or (301) 713-7705.
NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center was born as the Research Flight Facility (RFF) in 1961. The U.S. Weather Bureau's National Hurricane Research Project, of which RFF. was originally a part, funded the acquisition of two Douglas DC-6 aircraft, a B-57A and a DC-4 to support its multifaceted atmospheric research programs which included the early attempts to modify hurricanes. This project, called Stormfury was a joint effort of the Weather Bureau and the Department of Defense to learn more about hurricanes to be able to say whether their intensity could be decreased through dynamic cloud seeding in order to achieve beneficial results. In 1970, a WC-130B was obtained on loan from the U.S. Air Force to further enhance this program.
Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the Research Flight Facility's aircraft, operating from Miami International Airport engaged in many atmospheric research projects spanning the globe from the Arctic to India and West Africa. It also continued with the Stormfury project until it was recognized that aircraft with better performance characteristics and more sophisticated instrumentation would be required to successfully achieve the goals of the project. To this end, two WP-3D Orion turbine powered aircraft were ordered from the Lockheed California Company in 1973.
In 1975 the facility was combined with a unit from the Environmental Research Laboratories to form the Research Facilities Center, an organization that provided both airborne platform and engineering capabilities to NOAA's research community. In 1975 and 1976, the RFC received the two new WP-3D research aircraft and replaced the aging DC-6, B-57A and DC-4 aircraft.
In 1983, the Office of Aircraft Operations (OAO) was created to consolidate all of the aviation assets operated by NOAA. The OAO was charged with managing NOAA aircraft, personnel, budget, facilities and the charter of aircraft in support of NOAA aircraft programs. By the mid 1980s, the OAO consisted of two WP-3D Orions, a DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, a Beech C-90 King Air, two Rockwell Aero Commanders, a Rockwell Turbo Commander and two Bell 212 helicopters.
In the early 1990s, the OAO was designated the Aircraft Operations Center and moved to MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida in January 1993. AOC relocated to Lakeland Linder Regional Airport in June 2017.