Hurricane Hunters born in a bar

As the East Coast is battered by Hurricane Sandy and the Atlantic City boardwalk washes into the Atlantic Ocean, it’s hard not to think about the pilots and aircrews who actually fly into these hurricanes.

The Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron has flown through Hurricane Sandy all week helping forecasters predict this unprecedented turn toward the New Jersey shore and through Pennsylvania.

This summer, Air Force Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa listed a couple facts unknown about these Reservists who are the ones called every time the National Hurricane Center identifies a potential tropical storm. One fact I didn’t know is that the Hurricane Hunter were actually the product of a bar room dare. The rest of the facts provided by Ragusa are below:

— 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. Maj. Duckworth flew into the eye of that storm twice that day, once with a navigator and again with a weather officer. These were generally considered to be the first airborne attempts to obtain data for use in plotting the position of a tropical cyclone as it approached land. Duckworth’s pioneering efforts paved the way for further flights into tropical cyclones.

— While commercial airliners often fly at 40,000 feet, 53rd pilots never fly storms above 10,000 feet. Hurricanes can extend up to 60,000 feet.

— 53rd pilots only fly storms over water. When the storm hits land, our mission is complete.

— Hurricane Hunter missions can last as long as 14 hours and use as much as 60,000 lbs. of fuel.

— 53rd aircrews have a minimum crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, weather officer and loadmaster/dropsonde operator.

— There are only 12 planes in the world allowed to fly into hurricanes and we have 10 of them. The other two are flown by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

—  Hurricane Hunters can fly a storm 24 hours a day. It takes at least three planes and crews.

—  53rd pilots fly as low as 500 feet during the infancy of a storm.

— The unit has never missed a tasking from the National Hurricane Center.

— Data and observations gathered by the Hurricane Hunters helps make the forecasts by the NHC 30 percent more accurate allowing local officials to make critical decisions about safety and property.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • Matt

    Does anyone else think its odd that DT is ignoring the “defense tech” aspects of the Benghazi fiasco and posting up these civilian general aviation type stories lately? No comment on the laser painter situation, drones, AC-130s, etc?

  • J.R.

    Matt, the story right now is hurricanes, because the entire media market, including the editors and producers for those media markets, are in a hurricane.

    Also, the only news outlets (incl. blogs) still covering Benghazi are those with a political agenda. I hate to break it to you, but no matter how much Fox News covers it, no other outlet is going to “pick up and run with” that story.

    • Mark

      J.R. Nixon lied and no one died, yet he was going to be impeached for that lie. With more and more reporting we are begining to see just how horrible Obama’s actions were. Two UAVs possibly armed and never shot their weapons in defense of our Americans? 7 hours of fighting yet the military/CIA could not respond? They could have flown a squadron of F-22 all the way from the middle of the USA to Lybia within 3 hours. Most any air support was well within reach. Two live feeds of the area and no help. Yes we should focus on this heavily so this nev is allowed to happen again, and the one in Charge is responsible.

    • riceball

      I wouldn’t call SOFREP a politically oriented blog and they’ve been covering the whole Bengazi incident quite extensively from the get go.

      • blight_…

    • Matt

      Lets be honest JR - The media is ignoring Benghazi because it is an utter failure and indictment of this administration! The administration they propped up and sold a fraudulent bill of goods. 4 great Americans killed on 9/11 - in a 7 hour fire fight, with no back up ordered to stand down!!!!! head of AFRICOM CANNED, relieved of command, for attempting a rescue operation!

      And the targets were painted with a laser painter!!!! No munitions released! We need some commentary on the defense tech related information regarding architecture of these weapons systems, the failsafes, the data links, the go/no go parameters. Why/how was he painting a target if there wasnt an asset inthe air synched up with that system??

      Are these not cutting edge topics worthy of the defense tech blog??? AMERICANS DIED ON 9/11. ORDERS TO HELP THEM WERE DENIED.

      • Praetorian

        Why complain, just go to another thread.

      • top dog

        Goodby matt.

  • RRM

    My brother flew as an Aircrewman radar operator with Navy Squadron VW-1 out of Guam during the 60’s in support of the Viet Nam fracas. They did it in EC-121K’s (triple tail Constellation) and called themselves the “Typhoon Trackers”. They broke ground for all those who followed.

  • Taylor

    It is really tragic that the Obama administration did not see fit to trust the the judgment of the men on the ground and send aid to those fighting for their lives in Benghazi, however it is really not really a tech subject but more of a lack of leadership issue in my opinion.

  • John Moore

    How about a drone to deal with the cost associated?

    You have the plane the training for the crew the crews themselves etc so why not try a drone? Not to mention the chance taking when flying in these conditions.

  • Paula

    You can’t count the number of lives these brave Hurricane Hunters have saved. Because of the data they retrieve, we are better prepared during killer storms. I thank all members of our military for protecting us. I can’t wait until the elections are over, so we can read great stories like this without fear that it will become political.

  • Matt

    Obama on Benghazi, I mean, the hurricane: “We leave nobody behind” … how Ironic.…

  • tiger

    How many drinks Did Maj. Duckworth have to fly into a hurricane in a T-6?

    • Big Bri

      Drinks or not, those guys were B.M.F’ s and that aint no joke !!!!