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?

    • Anonymous

      You mean the info from the most reliable name in journalism…Fox News? Who sourced it from the most reliable source in journalism…unnamed sources?

      Get DT on it…STAT!

    • Michael Hoffman

      Matt, What are some of the defense tech aspects of the Benghazi attack that you think we are missing? We’ve focused most of the Benghazi coverage on our main site as I felt it needed a larger forum. I’m always up for story suggestions, though, for Defense Tech, it needs a tech focus.

      • Matt

        Lets hear some information about the Ex Seal on top of US soil that was killed by mortar fire while lazing a target. And some of his last recorded words “Where the **** is the Spectre???” Not to mention the 2 drones overhead. Not to mention the assets that could have been on station in 30 minutes for this 7 hour firefight. Lets hear about that laser system in laymans terms, from some of the people who have operated them or been near them. Apparently this man lazed the target once at 1 AM and the mortar team moved, lazed them again at 4 am and he was killed. No air support. Why doesnt this blog do some actual cutting edge blogging instead of re-formatting wikipedia articles? There is information out there you guys could be reporting, should be reporting. Most people dont even know AFRICOM head was canned by someone in DC for ATTEMPTING A RESCUE.

        Like I said lets have a blog post about what we know these guys were using, what assets were on station, and if it was just a casual error like this administration insists, lets have and open and honest discussion about what went wrong. Wouldnt that fall upon blogs such as this to provide insights where they can regarding weapons systems and critical facts?

        Compare the blackout over this fiasco with the leaks and gauzy coverage of the bin Laden raid. We knew every detail about the Gutsy Call(tm).

        Someone (from Washington, can only be Panetta, Clinton, Obama) ordered US forces to “Stand down” ‘repeatedly’ over this 7 hour assault. Multiple branches, multiple tier 1 units (incl Delta Force was within 2 miles), we can assume air assets, and we know that head of AFRICOM was relieved of command by his 2nd in command on orders from DC only 30 minutes after preparing a rescue mission.

        This is INSANE. And there has not been one post on here with regards to this tragedy. I’m not a reporter I dont get paid to write or dig up facts, but seems like the laser painter or the drones on station would be a good place to start!

        • blight_

          Laser designators do not make a tech related story.

          But yeah, it does seem more challenging these days to find interesting novel techs, especially now that the military is going to start putting a chokehold on funding DARPA level technology, and will probably instead focus on meat and potatoes that could be covered by DoDbuzz or

        • tiger

          Matt while the topic is newsworthy, Your desire to have it covered here is a bit off base however. There are other defense blogs you know.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Mark

      When the president called upon the Seals for help to take down Osama B. the Seals responded. Yet when the Seals called on the President for help he turned them down.

  • 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 !!!!