Hurricane Hunters: Women in Aviation Keeping an Eye on the Storm

September 20, 2019 Industry News

A hurricane is part of Mother Nature’s fury which can endanger thousands of people in its path. Aviation weather forecasting plays a tremendous role in the determination of flight safety. But did you ever wonder how meteorologists obtain the data they need to monitor the intensity and track of this kind of storm to keep us out of harm’s way? If you answered, “hurricane hunters,” then you’re right on track. There’s no denying that hurricane hunters are well-trained pilots. As an institution of learning that offers a wide range of aviation and flight degrees, Vaughn College sets the pace for this adventurous career path. This month, Vaughn highlights a unique area of the aviation industry by discussing the vital role hurricane hunters play in saving lives.

Who are hurricane hunters?

Hurricane hunters are aircrews that are part of the United States Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, aligned under the 403rd Wing and located at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi. Today’s basic five-member aircrew includes a pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight meteorologist and weather reconnaissance loadmaster. They are called upon by the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Florida to collect and retrieve necessary storm data. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is a one-of-a-kind organization as it is the only operational military weather reconnaissance unit in the world.

Hurricane hunters are not new to the aviation industry. In fact, the first manned flight occurred in 1943―on a dare―after two military pilots challenged each other to fly into the eye of a hurricane. Little did they know then how that bet would pave the way to today’s aviation weather forecasting of tropical cyclones. Seventy-six years later, a special all-female aircrew made history as it flew into Hurricane Dorian.

Hurricane Dorian: All-female hurricane hunter flight crew makes history

Last month, the first-ever all-female hurricane hunter flight crew made history when it gathered storm data on Hurricane Dorian. Amidst the danger of a major hurricane, the three-pilot flight crew flew a mission into the dangerous storm, marking the first time in 76 years that an all-female hurricane hunter flight crew stormed an Atlantic Ocean hurricane. More women in aviation are being recognized for their impact in the field. Way to go, ladies!

So, why are hurricane hunters critical to keeping the public safe? Read on to learn about their daring missions. (Are you interested in a career as a pilot? Check out the top 10 reasons for becoming a pilot.)

What do hurricane hunters do?

The mission of the aircrews is to fly directly into a tropical cyclone to gather the necessary data required to accurately assess the intensity and track of the storm. Specially modified U.S. Air Force planes typically used to drop off troops and supplies in war zones are flown by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to maneuver through the storm. If you’ve ever tracked one of these storms―or worse―lived in the potential path of one, then you know how the track and intensity of the storm can change like the wind (pun intended). So, how do these crews gather the data?

Eye in the sky

At about 10,000 feet, the crew drops Global Positioning System (GPS) sensors while flying directly through the eye to the hurricane’s edge and repeats this pattern as often as four times. This allows the crew to gather information about the storm’s speed, direction and winds. Each mission takes eight hours and alternating crews fly continuously through the course of the storm. The data from each mission is transmitted back to the National Hurricane Center where it is compiled, analyzed and released to news and weather outlets who then relay the information to the public.

Vaughn cares

Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a “category five” hurricane earlier this month, having caused catastrophic damage to several Bahamian islands. The Vaughn community’s thoughts are with those affected by Dorian, including our students, their friends and families.

Both men and women in the field play a crucial role in the safety of flight, management of airlines and engineering of flight technology. And reports like this reinforce the contributions of women in aviation. Are you inspired to take your career to new heights? Check out all that’s possible with an aviation degree from Vaughn, where the programs offered are suited to many diverse interests in the field.