Hurricane Hunters conduct deployment for training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Christopher Carranza
  • 403rd Wing Public Affairs

The Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron deployed to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, June 15 to 19 to fly training missions over the Caribbean in preparation for the 2020 hurricane season. 

The Hurricane Hunters are Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 403rd Wing based at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., and are the only Department of Defense unit that fly into tropical storms and hurricanes to collect weather data. 

“Traditionally, we would deploy in May with our maintenance and equipment packages all at once, and we referred to that as the rollout,” said Maj. Grant Wagner, 53rd WRS mission commander. “Due to COVID, and keeping our Airmen socially distant we broke up the rollout into two separate weeks.”

The ‘rollout’ is a week-long event that combines aircrew training and maintenance prepositioning, servicing and inventorying equipment for the upcoming hurricane season. This year due to COVID-19, the maintenance portion of the rollout was completed in May and the flight training, known as deployment for training, was completed in June.

All year-round, the Hurricane Hunters refine their skills in the WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft, ready to fly when requested by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Hurricane Center in Miami. 

"We can deploy within 16 hours after being requested by NHC and if necessary fly three different storms at any given time,” said Wagner. “Training here is crucial to our readiness and it ensures that our capability is not hindered, by short notice taskings or forward deploying.”

Depending upon the location of the storm, the base of operations can be at Keesler AFB, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Fla., or St. Croix. Missions can average about 11 hours and can cover approximately 3,500 miles. 

"Flying out of St. Croix allows us to operate longer in the storm environments that are further out in the Atlantic,” said Capt. Steve Bichsel, 53rd WRS navigator. “Training and becoming familiar with our forward deployed locations helps our crews streamline their processes and identify any deficiencies now, as opposed to during a real world weather mission.”  

The Hurricane Hunters mission is to collect storm data and send it to the NHC for forecasters to plug into their weather models for better forecasting predictions. The overall goal is to save lives and infrastructure through warnings and advisories generated by the collected data.

“Whether it’s a training sortie, invest flight, or a fix mission into a hurricane, we approach each mission with the same mindset,” said Bichsel. “We fly into storms not because it’s our job, but because we know that our mission can save lives.”