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Yesterday’s Air Force: Hurricane Hunters

September 12, 2019


IT STARTED AS A DARE BETWEEN TWO ARMY AIR
CORPS PILOTS IN 1943. FLIGHT INSTRUCTOR MAJOR JOE DUCKWORTH FLEW
A PROPELLER-DRIVEN SINGLE ENGINE T-6 TEXAN TRAINER INTO THE EYE OF A HURRICANE. HE MADE IT OUT ALIVE, THEN FLEW BACK IN A
SECOND TIME, CARRYING A WEATHER OFFICER ALONG. IT WAS THE BEGINNING OF HOW THE AIR FORCE
COLLECTS HURRICANE DATA TODAY. IN 1944 THE 3RD WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON BECAME THE FIRST OFFICIAL GROUP OF HURRICANE HUNTERS. THEY FLEW WB-25D MITCHELLS THROUGH THE 1944 GREAT ATLANTIC HURRICANE, REPORTING DATA BACK TO THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER. THE MITCHELL’S BOMB BAYS WERE MODIFIED TO
CARRY EXTRA FUEL TANKS INSTEAD OF MUNITIONS. THE TANKS ALLOWED FOR LONGER FLIGHTS. FIFTY PEOPLE DIED IN THE GREAT ATLANTIC HURRICANE, COMPARED TO NEARLY SEVEN-HUNDRED IN THE 1938 GREAT NEW ENGLAND HURRICANE. THE HURRICANE HUNTERS WERE CREDITED WITH KEEPING THE DEATH TOLL SIGNIFICANTLY LOWER BY GIVING OUT AMPLE WARNING.RESIDENTS ARE ADVISED TO GET OUT NOW! THE AIR FORCE STRIPPED SOME B-50 SUPERFORTRESSES OF THEIR DEFENSIVE ARMAMENT IN 1953, EQUIPPING THEM FOR LONG-RANGE WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE
MISSIONS. NOW CALLED THE WB-50, THE AIRCRAFT HAD HIGH
ALTITUDE ATMOSPHERIC SAMPLERS, DOPPLER RADAR, WEATHER RADAR, AND A BOMB-BAY FUEL TANK FOR
EXTENDED RANGE. IN 1959 THE WC-130B HERCULES BECAME OPERATIONAL, FOLLOWED BY THE E-MODEL IN 1962 AND THE H-MODEL IN 1964. THE H MODEL FLEW UNTIL 2005, WHEN IT WAS REPLACED BY THE CURRENT WC-130J. AS AMERICA ENTERED THE SPACE AGE, THE FIRST
SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF A WEATHER SATELLITE IN 1960 HELPED FORECASTERS DETECT HURRICANES. SATELLITES STILL PLAY A BIG ROLE IN FORECASTING
HURRICANES, BUT THEY DON’T PROVIDE THE INFORMATION NEEDED TO PREDICT HURRICANE DEVELOPMENT AND
MOVEMENT. THE ATMOSPHERIC DISTRIBUTED DATA SYSTEM, OR ADDS, AND OMEGA DROPSONDE WIND FINDING SYSTEM BECAME STANDARD EQUIPMENT IN 1987. THE ADDS SYSTEM HAS SENSORS THAT MEASURE TEMPERATURE, HUMIDITY, ALTITUDE, WIND SPEED AND DIRECTION. THE DATA FROM THESE SENSORS IS COLLECTED AND
SENT TO THE NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER. OVER THE YEARS, THE HURRICANE HUNTERS HAVE
HAD MANY DESIGNATIONS AND CALLED MANY AIRFIELDS HOME. ON NOVEMBER 1, 1993, THE 53RD WEATHER RECONNAISSANCE SQUADRON, AS IT’S KNOWN TODAY, WAS REACTIVATED AND ASSIGNED TO THE AIR FORCE RESERVE. IN 2007 THE STEPPED-FREQUENCY MICROWAVE RADIOMETER WAS ADDED TO THE HURRICANE HUNTER’S ARSENAL OF TECHNOLOGY, TO CONTINUOUSLY MEASURE SURFACE WINDS AND RAINFALL RATES BELOW THE AIRCRAFT. THE MISSION OF THE HURRICANE HUNTERS MAKES IT POSSIBLE TO GIVE ADVANCE WARNING OF HURRICANES, INCREASING THE ACCURACY OF STORM PREDICTIONS.

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