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Hurricane Hunters

It is hard to imagine, but a group of pilots called The Hurricane Hunters actually fly directly into hurricanes! The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, known at the Hurricane Hunters, are part of the Air Force Reserve. They fly right into the eye of the hurricane to get information on the hurricane. This information is used by the National Hurricane Center to make predictions about the size, strength and future path of the hurricane. This information, in turn, is used by local officials who need to make decisions about possible evacuations of areas that might be at risk for the hurricane.

TheHurricane Hunters use WC-130 aircraft on their weather missions. The planes have a six-person crew that includes the aircraft commander, co-pilot, flight engineer, navigator, weather officer and a dropsonde system operator. The dropsonde system operator releases the dropsonde - a weather-sensing canister attached to a small parachute. This canister radios back to the aircraft information on the temperature, humidity, pressure and winds inside the storm. The weather information is processed aboard the aircraft and transmitted by satellite to the National Hurricane Center.

The first mission to check a new hurricane is flown at a low-level altitude, generally between 500 and 1,500 feet. Later, as the storm builds in strength, the flights are at higher altitudes. The planes fly right into the storm - not above it! The ride can get pretty bumpy as the area around the eye is usually surrounded by a solid ring of thunderstorms called the eyewall. Sometimes the clouds and rain are so thick the aircraft's wings are barely visible to the crew.

Please click on image to view larger size and caption.

The WC-130 Hurricane Hunter plane in the midst of a hurricane The Hurricane Hunters fly WC-130s into the strong winds of hurricanes. A Hurricane Hunter flies the plane into the eye of a hurricane.
The dropsonde system operator prepares to drop the parachute-borne sensor. A Hurricane Hunter flight engineer does his job. A Hurricane Hunter pilot doing his job. The weather officer does his job in the midst of a hurricane.
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