By Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Sarracino
I have been enamored of aviation since childhood, and I love to fly in Air Force aircraft. So, when the opportunity to ride with the Air Force Reserve’s Hurricane Hunters came up, I naturally jumped at the chance.
In this case the mission was CHAT 2010 (Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour), part of a five-nation tour to the Caribbean and Latin America to reinforce the partnership between the U.S. National Hurricane Center and local weather and emergency service providers. The point was to visit areas which may be affected by hurricanes to familiarize their publics with the mission and capabilities of the Hurricane Hunters.
This year’s CHAT began March 19 with a visit to Bermuda and continued this week. It’s not difficult to publicize a visit by a Hurricane Hunter on an island which sits directly in the path of most northbound Atlantic hurricanes. The residents are pretty well educated about any and all things involving hurricanes.
The morning was reserved for school tours. I was impressed; the students were among the most polite, smartly dressed and well-mannered I’ve ever seen. The afternoon was open to the Bermudian public, which turned out in droves.
Among them: British Royal Air Force veteran Ian Farrow, who was impressed by the technical innovations on the C-130 aircraft since he was last aboard one in 1959. “It’s very good,” he said. “Things have certainly changed on this aircraft since I was in the RAF.”
The crew members were happy to share their most unique on-the-job experiences. Capt. Nicole Mitchell, an Air Force Reserve weather officer who is also an on-camera meteorologist for the Weather Channel, talked about her first flight.
“We were about 500 feet above the ocean’s surface when we realized that we were in hurricane force winds. We usually never fly that low in hurricanes, but the storm came quickly and we were forced to climb just as quickly to get out of danger. I thought it was just business as usual, and since I was working I wasn’t really affected by it. Only later did I learn that we were in a dangerous situation.”
Physically similar to other C-130s, the J model has a unique indentifying feature which differentiates it from the others: scimitar-shaped 6-bladed props: visually cool and producing a unique sound, much different from the usual four-bladed versions. Inside the cockpit, it’s a huge difference, with glass instrumentation, head-up displays and computers all over the place.
The WC-130 has an obvious difference in the cargo area: a tube behind the weather loadmaster position is used to launch dropsondes. These sensors record and transmit weather information to the aircraft and ground stations to update storm information in real-time.
Weather Loadmaster Master Sgt. Jeff Stack is in charge of everything behind the cockpit, including launching the dropsondes, while the mission is commanded on the flight deck by Lt. Col. Dave Borsi. National Hurricane Center deputy director Ed Rappaport led the group of scientists, which included senior hurricane specialist Lixion Avila, and Tropical Analysis and Forecast Branch meteorologist Jorge Aguirre-Echevarria, among other weather specialists.
The CHAT originated at Keesler AFB, Miss. After Bermuda, the CHAT is visiting Mazatlan and Merida, Mexico; San Salvador, El Salvador; Antigua and Barbados; and Roosevelt Roads, Puerto Rico, before returning March 28 to Keesler.
Photo Captions. All photos and map by Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Sarracino, U.S. Air Force Reserve:
–Capt. Nicole Mitchell, right, a weather officer with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, explains her crew position and responsibilities to Bermudian school children who were touring the WC-130J during a visit to the island.
–Royal Air Force veteran Ian Farrow, a Bermudian, shares his thoughts after touring a WC-130J from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron during a visit to the island.
–The WC-130J “Hurricane Hunter” sits on the ramp in St. George, Bermuda during a visit to the island by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.