It’s not easy being green – and neither is predicting hurricanes.
But weather forecasters can get the job done, thanks to “Kermit”, “Miss Piggy” and “Gonzo”.
Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Gonzo are three National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association aircraft known as hurricane hunters, weather stations that fly to hurricanes to gather critical weather data.
Muppets on a mission
“Kermit” and “Miss Piggy” are Orion WP-3D (“P-3”) aircraft, which fly in hurricanes at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet. Planes are big and sturdy and can fly through a tropical cyclone’s eyewall, the most intense part of the storm.
Gonzo is a Gulfstream-IV (“G-IV”) aircraft, an agile jet aircraft that flies over hurricanes at altitudes of up to 45,000 feet. As hurricanes can reach heights of around 60,000 feet, the jet flies high observing the storms, their surroundings and their movements.
Since they play a vital role in finding and forecasting hurricanes, the three hurricane chasers do so with a bit of flair.
Painted just below the pilot‘s seat window of each plane are the plane’s namesake Muppets.
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But how did three of Jim Henson’s most colorful creations come together to study some of Mother Nature’s most powerful creations?
First up, Miss Piggy
The story begins over thirty years ago with the P-3 aircraft and an imaginative maintenance team at NOAA.
According to NOAA Maintenance Director Greg Bast, who was the P-3 crew chief at NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center in the early 1990s, the plane’s mechanic at the time did not was not too attached to its aesthetic appearance. The P-3 was called the “pig” in the maintenance department because of its appearance.
Bast and P-3 Flight Engineer Steve Kirkpatrick shared this sentiment and were even determined to change the look of the aircraft over the next year. In the meantime, they decided to call the P-3 Miss Piggy because the Muppet character is always particular about her looks.
The name Miss Piggy became popular around the Aviation Operations Center, and the P-3 plane that bore the Muppet’s name became “one of the nicest planes” they had, according to Bast.
Bast, who describes himself as “a frustrated artist at heart”, even designed a logo featuring Miss Piggy. He and Kirkpatrick later used the logo inside the P-3 and in their workspaces.
Working with Jim Henson Production
Little did they know that “Miss Piggy” would soon gain official status. At the suggestion of one of their pilots, CDR Ron Phillipsborn (now retired), the team approached Henson Productions about a possible collaboration.
Jim Henson was thrilled with the idea, according to Bast. Thus began a cascade of events that involved creating artwork for the P-3 and thinking about what its design would look like.
Working with Michael Frith, director of Muppet Productions at the time, Bast helped develop a Miss Piggy design inspired by her logo and World War II aircraft nose art.
But while designing a Muppet logo for the P-3, a second Muppet logo appeared. Knowing that NOAA had a second P-3, Frith came up with the idea of featuring Kermit on the plane, since the two planes and Kermit and Miss Piggy are close pairs.
The Kermit and Miss Piggy logos were later placed on the aircraft and, along with Frith and others from Henson Productions, later officially unveiled at the NOAA premises in Miami.
A triumvirate of Muppets
The third and final hurricane chaser, the G-IV, was soon to have its time in Henson’s spotlight.
In 1996 Bast and his team worked with Henson Productions to create a logo for the G-IV. Taking inspiration from the aircraft’s non-standard nose radome, the Muppet chosen for the G-IV was the long-nosed Gonzo.
In the decades that followed, the planes carried the playful logos and were affectionately called by their Muppet namesakes.
“While the birth of these logos was somewhat ‘ironic’, the Aircraft Operations Center has used the logos to spark the interest of children of all ages, across the country and the world, in atmospheric research,” said declared Bast.
According to Bast, his team distributes small replica logo stickers to children and adults who visit their facility and plane, adding that the logos always draw attention to the plane wherever they go.
“Henson Productions has been very kind to us and we are very proud to have these logos on the side of our planes,” Bast said.
“Logos have brought fun to what we do and improved our visibility to the public,” he added. “Aircraft nicknames have become such a big part of our lore around the Aircraft Operations Center that aircraft are rarely referred to by their registration numbers.”