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Office of Marine and Aviation Operations

A NOAA Lockheed WP-3D Orion used for hurricane reconnaissance missions.

The Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) is a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which operates a wide variety of specialized ships and aircraft to carry out the environmental and scientific missions of NOAA.


NOAA′s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations (OMAO) operates NOAA′s aircraft and ships. OMAO also manages the NOAA Small Boat Program and the NOAA Diving Program, the latter having as part of its mission the job of ensuring a level of diving skill conducive to safe and efficient operations in NOAA-sponsored underwater activities.[1]

A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Commissioned Officer Corps (NOAA Corps) rear admiral serves as both the director of the NOAA Corps and of OMAO. A NOAA Corps rear admiral (lower half) serves as the director of the Marine and Aviation Operations Centers.

Manning and resource management

NOAA's aircraft and ships are operated and managed by a combination of NOAA Corps officers, NOAA civilians, and wage marine employees. NOAA Corps officers and OMAO civilians frequently serve as chief scientists on program missions. Aboard NOAA ships, NOAA Corps officers perform administrative duties and are responsible for the navigation of the vessels, while NOAA civilians and wage marine employees serve as licensed engineers, mechanics, navigators, technicians, and members of the engine, steward, and deck departments. Aboard both aircraft and ships, NOAA Corps officers and civilian crew members provide mission support and assistance to embarked scientists from various NOAA laboratories and the academic community.

To complement NOAA's aircraft and ship fleets, OMAO contracts for ship and aircraft time with other sources, such as the private sector and universities.


Aircraft operations

NOAA's two Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft along with a De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter (foreground) and a Beechcraft King Air inside the NOAA Aircraft Operations Center hangar in Lakeland, Florida.

NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center (AOC) is home to NOAA's fleet of aircraft. It has been located at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland, Florida, since June 2017. Prior to its move to Lakeland, the AOC resided at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, from January 1993 to June 2017.[2]

NOAA aircraft often operate over open ocean, mountains, coastal wetlands, Arctic pack ice, and in and around hurricanes and other severe weather. The aircraft collect environmental and geographic data for NOAA hurricane and other weather and atmospheric research (including as part of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters program; provide aerial support for coastal and aeronautical charting and remote sensing projects; conduct aerial surveys for hydrologic research; support NOAA's fishery research and marine mammal assessment programs; and provide support to emergency response managers during and after natural disasters.

NOAA research aircraft types operated


Aircraft Number in service Registration # Introduced
Beechcraft Super King Air 350CER 3 N67RF, N68RF, N65RF 2009
De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 4 N46RF, N48RF, N56RF, N57RF 1994
Gulfstream IV-SP 1 N49RF 2022
Lockheed WP-3D Orion 2 N42RF, N43RF 1976

NOAA also operates unmanned aerial vehicles.[3]


Aircraft [4] Number in service Purchasing Agency Introduced Retired
Boeing WB-50A Superfortress 2 NHRL 1956 1958
Boeing WB-47E Stratojet 1 NHRL 1956 1960
Douglas DC-6B 2 NHRL 1960 1975
Douglas WB-26 Invader 1 NHRL 1961 1965
Martin WB-57A Canberra 1 NHRL 1960 1971
Douglas WC-54D Skymaster 1 NHRL 1961 1965
Lockheed WC-130B 1 NHRL 1970 1981
Aero Commander 500 2 NOAA ? ?
Lake Renegade ? NOAA ? ?
Cessna Citation II ? NOAA ? ?
Bell 212 ? NOAA ? ?
Gulfstream Turbo Commander 695A 1 NOAA 2004


Fleet origins

NOAA's ship fleet traces it ancestry to the fleets of the Survey of the Coast and of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, widely referred to as the United States Fish Commission. The Survey of the Coast, established in 1807, became the United States Coast Survey in 1836 and then the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey in 1878, and it operated a fleet of survey ships that conducted hydrographic surveys along the coasts of the United States and its territories. The Fish Commission, which became the United States Bureau of Fisheries in 1903, operated a fleet that included fisheries research ships until 1940, when the Bureau of Fisheries was abolished and its fleet was transferred to the Department of the Interior′s new Fish and Wildlife Service. In a major reorganization in 1956, the Fish and Wildlife Service became the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and its new Bureau of Commercial Fisheries took control of the seagoing fisheries research fleet.

The NOAA fleet was created when various United States Government scientific agencies merged to form NOAA on 3 October 1970. At that time, the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries were abolished, and the ships that had constituted their fleets combined to form the new NOAA fleet. At first, the major ships that were to constitute the new fleet reported to separate entities, with former Coast and Geodetic Survey ships subordinate to the National Ocean Survey (renamed the National Ocean Service in 1983, the Coast and Geodetic Survey's successor organization within NOAA), while former Bureau of Commercial Fisheries ships reported to the National Marine Fisheries Service (the successor agency within NOAA of the Fish Commission, Bureau of Fisheries, and Bureau of Commercial Fisheries). Via a phased process during 1972 and 1973, however, the ships of the National Ocean Survey and National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as those of the Environmental Research Laboratories, integrated to form a consolidated and unified NOAA fleet, operated by the National Ocean Survey's Office of Fleet Operations.[5]

Ship operations

The NOAA fleet provides hydrographic survey, oceanographic and atmospheric research, and fisheries research vessels to support the elements of NOAA's strategic plan and mission. NOAA's Fleet Allocation Council manages and allocates the time each ship spends on various missions and projects based on user requests.[5] Some ships of the fleet are vessels retired from the United States Navy or other maritime services. The vessels are located in various locations around the United States. The ships are managed by the Marine Operations Center, which has offices in Norfolk, Virginia, and Newport, Oregon. Logistic support for these vessels is provided by the Marine Operations Center offices or, for vessels with home ports at Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Charleston, South Carolina; Pascagoula, Mississippi; San Diego, California; or Honolulu, Hawaii, by port captains located in those ports.

NOAA research and survey vessels

Upon its creation on 3 October 1970, NOAA took control of all ships previously operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Bureau of Commercial Fisheries and the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. NOAA has since decommissioned many of these ships and replaced them with ships acquired from the U.S. Navy or new ships built specifically for NOAA.

The names of NOAA ships are preceded by the prefix "NOAAS" (for "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Ship") and followed by a unique hull classification symbol, or "hull number," made up of a letter indicating whether the vessel is a research ship (R) or survey ship (S), followed by a three-digit number. Each hull classification symbol is unique among NOAA ships currently in commission, although in some cases NOAA uses a hull classification symbol identical to one it used previously for a ship that it has since decommissioned.

Present Fleet

Fisheries research ships
Gallery - fisheries research ships
Hydrographic/oceanographic/atmospheric research ships
Gallery - hydrographic/oceanographic/atmospheric research ships

Past Fleet

Maritime flags and pennants

The NOAA flag, flown by commissioned NOAA ships as a distinctive mark.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration commission pennants for Class I vessels (top) and for Class II, III, and IV vessels (above).

NOAA ships fly the flag of the United States as their ensign. To distinguish them from ships of other United States Government agencies and services that also fly the U.S. flag as their ensign, NOAA ships also fly the NOAA flag as a distinctive mark.[14] This practice carries on the tradition of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, whose ships flew the Coast and Geodetic Survey flag as a distinctive mark from 1899 until 1970, when the Coast and Geodetic Survey was abolished and its ships were incorporated into the NOAA fleet. The Coast and Geodetic Survey flag included a red triangle to represent the discipline of triangulation used in hydrographic surveys, and the flag of NOAA, in use since 1970, includes a similar red triangle.[15]

NOAA ships also fly a "commission pennant" in a similar manner to U.S. Navy and United States Coast Guard ships.[14] The NOAA fleet has three commission pennants, one for its largest ships (which it deems "Class I" vessels), and two for smaller ships NOAA defines as "Class II," "Class III," or "Class IV" vessels.[15] The pennant for Class I vessels is 15 feet (4.6 m) long and has 13 red triangles on a white background at the hoist, with the remainder of the pennant blue, while the pennants for Class II, III, and IV vessels are 9 and 4 feet (2.7 and 1.2 m) long and have seven red triangles but otherwise are identical in design to the Class I pennant.[15][16] The pennants also carry forward a tradition of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey fleet, which flew commission pennants identical to those of the NOAA fleet.[15]


  • This article incorporates material taken from the public domain website of the [1].
  1. ^ "Office of Marine and Aviation Operations |".
  2. ^ "NOAA awards 10-year lease to City of Lakeland, Florida, to house NOAA Aircraft Operations Center". NOAA. Retrieved July 28, 2017.
  3. ^ NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations: Aircraft Accessed 27 October 2022
  4. ^ Dorst, Neal M. "The National Hurricane Research Center - 50 Years of Research, Rough Rides, and Name Changes" (PDF). Retrieved July 21, 2020.
  5. ^ a b AFSC Historical Corner - Timeline of Significant Events Retrieved August 23, 2018
  6. ^ "NOAAS Gordon Gunter". NOAA. Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  7. ^ "NOAAS Oregon II". NOAA. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  8. ^ "NOAAS Oscar Elton Sette". NOAA. Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  9. ^ "NOAAA Fisheries Research Vessel PISCES Christening and Launch". NOAA. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  10. ^ "NOAAS David Starr Jordan". NOAA. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  11. ^ "NOAAS Ferrell". NOAA. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  12. ^ "NOAAS Ka'Imimoana". NOAA. Archived from the original on May 26, 2011. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  13. ^ "NOAAS Miller Freeman". NOAA. Retrieved May 5, 2013.
  14. ^ a b NAO 201-6 A: Official Flags of NOAA March 15, 2015
  15. ^ a b c d Sea Flags: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration Accessed 26 October 2022
  16. ^ NAO 201-6A Attachment 1: Authorized Flags of the Department of Commerce, NOAA, and the NOAA Commissioned Corps March 15, 2015
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Office of Marine and Aviation Operations
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