As storms over the past few weeks battered already-soggy southern England, rivers burst their banks and floodwaters began to rise. At least two people have been killed by the wind, water, and waves, so the British military decided it needed to do something. Specifically, it needed to bring in the Royal Air Force.
One of the biggest problems with helping the stranded in flood zones is that it can be hard to determine where the help is needed. If a road is impassable, it can be genuinely hard to tell if the people at the other end of it are high-and-dry or are sitting on rooftops waiting for evacuation. Questions like "who has food?" or "does anybody need medical attention?" can be incredibly difficult to answer if emergency services don't know the situation that's on the ground.
Enter the Tornado and the Sentinel R1.
Each was developed as a result of the Cold War. The Panavia Tornado first took flight in the mid-1970s and was developed as a multirole fighter-bomber built to destroy enemy defenses and intercept incoming Soviet bombers. It's served with distinction in not only the RAF, but also the Luftwaffe and a few others in conflicts from Kosovo to Libya.
The Sentinel R1 is a bit newer, developed in the 1990s from what started out as a Bombardier Global Express business jet. When it first flew in 2004, it was designed to scan massive battlefield environments for moving targets like vehicles. Those vehicles would then be destroyed by accompanying fighter jets, so it sort of served as the big angry air traffic controller in the sky you do not want to piss off. Cruising at over 40,000 feet, it can peek at 500 miles every ten minutes.
The Sentinel R1 and the Tornado, equipped with a RAPTOR reconnaissance pod that can rapidly take huge photos, are working in tandem over southern England in an awesome effort in modern day cartography, according to War is Boring:
Taken together, Sentinel and Tornado can quickly produce detailed maps of large areas—in this case, helping civilian authorities decide where to focus their flood-relief efforts.
The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and county councils are also using the imagery to compare the 2014 floods with previous deluges, with the aim of gauging what effect old flood defenses have had—and how they should be improved.
Flood relief is pouring into the affected areas thanks to the help of these two birds. Which just goes to show that even when waste billions of dollars on military jets, we can still get hidden uses out of them.
Photo credits: Getty Images/UK Ministry of Defence/Alan Redecki