The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, a component of the 403rd Wing located at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., is a one-of-a-kind organization. It is the only operational unit in the world flying weather reconnaissance on a routine basis.
The mission of the Hurricane Hunters is to recruit, organize and train assigned personnel to perform aerial weather reconnaissance. They 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. The unit also flies winter storm missions off both coasts of the United States.
To perform their mission, the Hurricane Hunters have 10 WC-130J aircraft. These Super Hercules aircraft are equipped with palletized meteorological data-gathering instruments. The WC-130J is the next generation "Hurricane Hunter" designed to continue weather reconnaissance well into the 21st century.
The 53rd WRS is authorized 20 aircrews. Fifty-nine unit members hold air reserve technician positions. The rest of the squadron is made up of Air Force Reservists.
WC-130Js carry a basic crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight meteorologist and weather reconnaissance loadmaster. The pilot, who serves as the aircraft commander, and the co-pilot man the flight controls. The navigator keeps track of the aircraft's position and movement and monitors radar to avoid tornadic activity. The flight meteorologist acts as flight director and observes and records meteorological data at flight level using a computer that encodes weather data every 30 seconds. The weather reconnaissance loadmaster collects and records vertical meteorological data using a parachute-borne sensor known as a dropsonde. It measures and encodes weather data down to the ocean surface.
Co-located with the National Hurricane Center in Miami, is a small group of Air Force Reserve civilian personnel, assigned to the 53rd WRS. The supervisory meteorologist of the unit serves as Chief, Aerial Reconnaissance Coordination, All Hurricanes, better known as CARCAH.
These personnel are responsible for coordinating Department of Commerce requirements for hurricane data, tasking weather reconnaissance missions and monitoring all data transmitted from weather reconnaissance aircraft.
It all started in 1943 as a bar room dare, when 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. Major 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.
The 53rd WRS was originally activated in 1944 during World War II as the 3rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, Air Route, Medium, tracking weather in the North Atlantic between North American and Europe. Since that time, the Hurricane Hunters have had many designations and called many airfields home.
The squadron moved from New Hampshire and then on to Florida. In late 1947, the Hurricane Hunters moved across the Atlantic to Kindley Field, Bermuda, later relocating at Burtonwood Royal Air Force Station, England, and Dharan, Saudi Arabia. The squadron returned to Bermuda for a short time, and then back to the United States at Hunter AFB, Ga. In 1966, the 53rd WRS once again left the United States, this time for Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. When Ramey closed in 1973, the Hurricane Hunters came to their present location at Keesler AFB, Miss.
In June of 1991, the 53rd WRS was deactivated, and all weather reconnaissance responsibility fell to the Air Force Reserve's 815th Weather Squadron, which had existed concurrently with the 53rd since 1976. Then on Nov. 1, 1993, the 53rd WRS was reactivated and assigned to the Air Force Reserve, replacing the 815th WS.
In September of 1999, the 53rd WRS received its first of 10 WC-130Js. While in conversion to the new airframe, the unit continued its mission of aerial weather reconnaissance and added a new weather-related mission in 2003, using the WC-130Js to drop buoys ahead of impending tropical storms.
In 2004, the unit started training to support tactical airlift missions in addition to the unit's weather mission.
In September 2005, the unit completed conversion to the J-model a month ahead of schedule, flying absolutely no hurricane taskings in the legacy WC-130Hs during the 2005 Hurricane Season. Despite heavy damage to their home station caused by Hurricane Katrina, the unit continued its weather reconnaissance mission without missing a single tasking.