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.