Typical hurricane hunter reconnaissance planes fly at altitudes of 12,000 feet or lower, he said. At 60,000 feet, the Hawks are actually way above the storms, which allows the drone’s sensitive equipment to study the hurricane down to sea level.This inhospitable environment would be difficult for pilots in manned planes: “For instance, a pilot would have to wear a full spacesuit at those altitudes, where fatigue would also be a factor,” Mission Chief Scott Braun said.
The mission is called the "Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel Mission" and will continue through mid-October. Mission chief and NASA research meteorologist Scott Braun says the plane can fly at extremely high altitudes and in hazardous conditions.
Further details are in this press release from NASA.