We have five different flying jobs at the Hurricane Hunters. ALL jobs are part of the Air Force Reserve. Half of the positions are part-time (traditional reservists), and half are full-time (Air Reserve Technicians). We have 40 pilots, 20 each of navigators, aerial reconnaissance weather officers, and weather loadmasters.
In addition, we have numerous support personnel that work in various fields such as flight administration, life support, and various maintenance specialties; without these folks we would never get airborne!
Let’s take a closer look at the duties of each one of these positions.
Every mission requires two pilots (one is designated the aircraft commander (AC) and the other is the co-pilot) and they are the guys/gals that fly the airplane. The AC, is in charge of all the other crewmembers, and makes sure the mission is done safely and on time.
The pilots of the 53WRS are trained to do what every pilot is trained NOT to do, fly into weather. They earn their paycheck getting us through a storm safely.
All weather missions require a navigator (nav) who is responsible for preparing a navigational flight plan, which includes the route, headings, and altitudes to be flown, checkpoints, enroute times, and estimated fuel consumption.
The nav prepares charts for the flight, and inspects his/her navigational equipment prior to flight. During flight, the nav uses the equipment (inertial, global positioning satellite, and radios) to determine where the aircraft is, and uses radar to avoid severe weather.
Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer:
The weather officer acts as the Flight Director in the storm environment. They continuously monitor atmospheric data that is ingested from the aircraft sensors every second.
They check this data for accuracy and then use the information to guide the crew right to center of a storm where they direct a “sonde” release and take observations that they disseminate through satellite communications directly to the National Hurricane Center.
Weather Loadmaster/Dropsonde Systems Operator:
The "load" actually has two jobs on the WC-130. They are a Loadmaster, which requires making sure everything is loaded and tied down properly in the cargo compartment, as well as scanning the exterior of the airplane during engine start, and monitoring the health of the plane during the flight by inspecting the engines and other aircraft systems.
They can be tasked for several missions, in addition to weather reconnaissance, such as aero medical or transportation. During a weather mission they are responsible for collecting vertical weather profile data.
They do this by using an instrument called a dropsonde which is a special weather instrument which acts similar to a weather balloon (except it falls). The Dropsonde Operator drops a sonde each time we go through the eye of the storm, plus in other areas of interesting weather.
Want to know how to become a Hurricane Hunter? Find out here!