Hurricane drone makes it to Guinness Book of World Records

Back in 2021, a surface drone traveled into the eye of Hurricane Sam and made a wind speed measurement like never before.
Ameya Paleja
One of SailDrone's USV in action
One of SailDrone's USV in action


Explorer SD 1045, one of the many drones in SailDrone's fleet of hurricane-chasing uncrewed surface vehicles (USV), has now made it to the Guinness Book of World Records for the highest windspeed measured by a USV, a press release said.

SD 1045 is no stranger to making global headlines. It gained popularity for sailing through the eye of Hurricane Sam in 2021, and the recent entry into the record book is also a recognition of the same feat.

But the Guinness Book of Records, which usually reserves its pages for amazing feats by humans, animals, or maybe the extreme phenomena of the natural world, seems to have had a major rethinking in the new world of drones.

What makes SD 1045 special?

Built by California-based SailDrone, SD 1045 is an Explorer-class SUV that is nearly 23 feet (7 m) long and has a 16.4 feet (5 m) tall wing-sail, which provides forward propulsion. When heading into hurricanes, the USV sports a shorter "hurricane" wing that can withstand tough conditions inside the cyclone.

The USV is built for long-endurance missions that can last up to 12 months without the need for maintenance or refueling since they are powered by wind and solar energy. While the drones are remotely supervised by humans, they are capable of autonomously navigating between two set points, taking into account the wind and currents.

SD 1045 not only spent 24 hours inside Hurricane Sam but also emerged intact, having collected data about the physical interactions between the ocean and the atmosphere as the hurricane intensified. During this time, the USV faced massive waves and wind speeds exceeding 100 miles an hour.

One of the instruments onboard recorded a wind speed of 109.83 knots (126.4 mph) as it passed through the eye of the Category 4 hurricane. After the Hurricane, SD 1045 sailed to Bermuda, after which it was shipped back to California.

“This record is a testament to the unique endurance of the Saildrone platform," said Richard Jenkins, Saildrone founder and CEO, in the press release. "We are proud to have engineered a vehicle capable of operating in the most extreme weather conditions on earth, to deliver data that can help to advance understanding of these powerful storms and protect our coastal communities.”

What next?

SD 1045 has been included in the 2024 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records, but the USV isn't done yet. This summer, the drone is one of the 12 vehicles deployed by the company for the 2023 mission.

The drone is stationed off the coast of South Carolina in an area where shallow waters combine with a strong current of the Gulf Stream to supply energy to passing storms. Greg Foltz, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told WGCU, "When hurricanes go over these warm waters, they often intensify, potentially right before they make landfall, so it’s really important to understand how the ocean interacts with the storms in this area,”