Tag Archives: Hurricane Hunters

Flying With Hurricane Hunters Part 1

By Staff Sgt. Manuel Martinez, 1st Combat Camera Squadron

On September 14th around lunchtime I was asked, ‘’what does your schedule look like this week and next?’’ Usually that question leads to the words “you’re going on a TDY.” I was eagerly anticipating the words “you’re going to such and such place to document such and such mission.” A few minutes later I was told “you’re going to  Air  Force Base in Mississippi to link up with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron ‘Hurricane Hunters’ and document their missions over Hurricane Igor.”

The next day, I was on a plane to Keesler AFB and meeting and greeting with the crews we would be documenting.  I was impressed with how quickly they planned out the details for their deployment of their WC-130J aircraft and personnel.  I was told that because they do this so often this planning has become second nature.  We soon found oKeeslerut that we would be heading out on the third aircraft going to St. Croix U.S. Virgin Islands, and that we needed to be there in the morning to meet our crew who we would fly with. I eagerly awaited the next day to embark on my photo adventure!

On September 15th, we brought in the bags and awaited our crew to show up for the mission brief. We shortly met with the crew and immediately feel at home. The crew was very close as you would feel in a family.  They had an amazing cohesiveness as I felt a sense of family amongst them.

The flight to St. Croix USVI was a five hour flight, which in comparison to my other flights was short.  We landed, and once the ramp door of the WC-130J was down, I was taken by the sight of such lush green hills and the sweet sea air. After we became situated, we went to their briefing room in their compound on the airfield to plan out the first flight. We found out what our morning show time was. We went to our hotel to get our imagery sent out and to rest up for our flight.

On September 16th we arrived, were briefed and stepped onto the plane.  I was so excited. Who gets to experience flying in a hurricane? Once in the air, I immediately headed up to the flight deck to see how it became cloudier the closer we came to Hurricane Igor. A little while into our flight, I started to see more clouds and waves on the ocean surface.  The plane was not even half way to the hurricane, and the winds were upwards of 30 knots.  I was told that due to Hurricane Igor’s size, its effects could be felt that far away. 

As we closed in on the hurricane’s eye wall, I walked to the flight meteorologist station to see it on the weather radar.  The eye wall was not completely round; it had a few breaks in it, as I was told by the flight meteorologist. I headed back up to the flight deck as we broke the eye wall and headed to the center of the hurricane.  Once we broke through the wall, the light became more subdued versus the bright white light it was before. 

As I observed below and around us, I saw a massive accumulation of clouds but not a distinct form as one would expect by watching weather on TV or videos online. I learned from the crew that it all depends on the hurricane and not all have the same uniform body as one might expect. I was still amazed at the ocean waves under us.  It was, for the most part, a smooth flight but this beast of a storm could sure make a lot of damage to land. I cannot wait until my next mission, which will be a night mission over Hurricane Igor!

PHOTO: U.S. Virgin Islands (September 16, 2010) – U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Levi Denham, a WC-130J Hercules aircraft weather reconnaissance loadmaster assigned to the 53rd Reconnaissance Squadron, performs pre-engine start-up inspections on a Hercules Sept. 16, 2010, in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Known as the Hurricane Hunters, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron’s mission is to provide surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico and the central Pacific Ocean for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez/Released)

Caribbean Hurricane Awareness Tour 2010

By Senior Master Sgt. Raymond Sarracino

MAPsmI 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.CHATKids

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.”

RAFChatThis particular C-130J, flown by crews of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, is currently on its way to several Latin American and Caribbean nations on this year’s tour.

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.

CHATC130Weather 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.