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Inside a Hurricane Hunter Plane

Fall 2013

By WeatherBug Meteorologists


What would it feel like to fly into the middle of a hurricane? Few people other than NOAA`s Hurricane Hunters have had this experience.

To perform their mission, the Hurricane Hunters have ten new WC-130J aircraft. Up until January of 2006, the WC-130H aircraft had been used. The new WC-130J aircraft are more fuel efficient and provide Hurricane Hunters with computer software that can automate many time consuming tasks.

The Hurricane Hunters are known officially as the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS) and are headquartered at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss. Hurricane Katrina dealt the base a devastating blow and forced the Hurricane Hunters to temporarily move to Georgia.

Each crew is made up of six positions: two pilots, a flight engineer, navigator, weather officer and dropsonde operator. All are reservists, and half also hold full-time civil service positions as Air Reserve Technicians, available for immediate call to duty.

The pilot and the co-pilot man the flight controls, while the navigator follows the aircraft`s position and movement as the flight engineer evaluates how well the aircraft is functioning mechanically.

It`s the job of the weather officer to observe and record meteorological data at flight level using a computer that encodes weather data. The dropsonde system operator collects and records weather data through different levels of the atmosphere using a dropsonde, a sensor released from a parachute.

These data are relayed back to the NOAA Tropical Prediction Center in Miami and are critical to providing reliable estimates of the storm`s intensity and to evaluating the upper level winds that steer the storm.

Hurricane reconnaissance began in 1943 as a bar-room dare when two Army Air Corps pilots challenged each other to fly through a hurricane. On July 27, 1943, Maj. Joe Duckworth flew a propeller-driven, single-engine North American AT-6 "Texan" trainer into the eye of a hurricane in the western Gulf of Mexico.

The 53rd WRS was first activated in 1944, as the 30th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Gander, Newfoundland. Its original mission was to fly weather flights between North America and Allied Western Europe. Since then, the Hurricane Hunters have had many designations and called many airfields home.

Photo Credit: NOAA. To view hurricane photos from the WeatherBug community, click on the "Your Photos" section, and then the Storms->Hurricanes category.

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