Explorations: Hurricane Flying
Pages 243 through 251 of The AMS Weather Book tells the story of how and why men and women fly into hurricanes and describes the role of such flights in gathering wind data in storms. This page will help anyone interested in hurricane flying learn more.
The author is among those fascinated by hurricane flying and has been fortunate enough to go on a few flights, including the one described in “Flight into Fran Was a Rare One into a Storm over Land” on USATODAY.com. Another story, “Why and How People Fly into Hurricanes,” also on USATODAY.com, is a brief look at the history and other details of hurricane flying.
Bob Sheets and Jack Williams, in Chapter 4 of their book Hurricane Watch: Forecasting the Deadliest Storms on Earth (New York: Vintage, 2001), offer a brief history of hurricane flying, from its beginnings during World War II through the rest of the twentieth century. The chapter includes the stories of the four aircraft that have gone down in storms—three in Pacific Ocean typhoons and one in a hurricane over the Caribbean Sea—and the stories of a couple of very rough flights, including one that Sheets was on.
Fortunately, most hurricane flights today are routine because the turboprop WC-130s, flown by the Air Force Reserve, and the WP-3s, flown by NOAA, are much more reliable than the older airplanes that used piston engines to turn the propellers. Also, both the Air Force and NOAA crews are generally more experienced at storm flying than the Air Force and Navy pilots who flew into hurricanes into the 1980s.
Jeff Masters’s tale of the NOAA WP-3 that ran into extreme turbulence in Hurricane Hugo is, to the author’s knowledge, the best story in print of a modern-day hurricane flight that ran into serious trouble. Masters is now chief meteorologist for the Weather Underground Web site and tells what happened on the Hunting Hugo Web page.