NOAA Hurricane Hunter aircraft N42RF experienced a truly awesome and terrifying mission into the heart of Hurricane Felix last night. Flying at 10,000 feet through Felix at 7pm EDT, N42RF dropped a sonde into the southeast eyewall. The swirling winds of the storm were so powerful that the sonde spun a full 3/4 circle around the eye before splashing into the northwest eyewall. It is VERY rare for a sonde to make nearly a complete circle around the eye like this. As the plane entered the eye of the now Category 5 hurricane, they found a 17-mile wide stadium lit up by intense lightning on all sides. The pressure at the bottom of the eye had hit 934 mb, and the temperature outside, a balmy 77 degrees at 10,000 feet. This is about 24 degrees warmer than the atmosphere normally is at that altitude, and a phenomenally warm eye for a hurricane. N42RF then punched into the northwest eyewall. Flight level winds hit 175 mph, and small hail lashed the airplane as lighting continued to flash. Then, the crew hit what Hurricane Hunters fear most–a powerful updraft followed a few seconds later by an equally powerful downdraft. The resulting extreme turbulence and wind shear likely made the aircraft impossible to control. Four G’s of acceleration battered the airplane, pushing the aircraft close to its design limit of 6 G’s. Although no one was injured and no obvious damage to the airplane occurred, the aircraft commander wisely aborted the mission and N42RF returned safely to St. Croix. N42RF is the same aircraft that survived a pounding of 5.6 g’s in the eyewall of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. A special inspection of the aircraft is planned for today to determine if it is fit to fly further missions into Felix, and its scheduled afternoon flight into the hurricane was canceled. Hurricane Hunter missions since have fared better, and no more extreme turbulence has been reported.