Military Aviation

AS HURRICANE HUNTERS TRACK HARVEY, RESCUE ASSETS PREPARE TO POTENTIALLY RESPOND TO RECOVERY OPERATIONS

Hurricane Harvey is a quickly developing storm: after entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it took less than 24 hours for the system to grow from a tropical depression into a hurricane

Airmen from the 23d Wing launched HC-130J Combat King IIs, HH-60G Pavehawks, and their aircrews to preposition assets at Moody Air Force Base (AFB) to potentially respond to recovery operations in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.

As explained in by Capt. Korey Fratini, 23d Wing Public Affairs, in the article Rescue assets preposition for possible Hurricane Harvey response, the unit received a prepare to deploy order to support possible United States Northern Command requirements for Hurricane Harvey response.

“Our Airmen remain ready to provide the necessary capabilities in order to support potential recovery operations,” said Col. Jennifer Short, 23d Wing commander. “When requested we are ready to respond at a moment’s notice to provide Air Force rescue and personnel recovery capabilities.”

A U.S. Air Force HC-130J Combat King II prepares to take off for Texas in preparation of possible hurricane relief support August 26, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

If tasked rescue assets from the 23d Wing will be able to provide crucial search and rescue capabilities.

In addition to aircraft and aircrew additional support personnel were also preposition to support the assets from Moody AFB.

In the meantime members of the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS), better known as the Hurricane Hunters, fly Hurricane Harvey. The data they’ve collected since on Aug. 17, 2017 has contributed to the National Hurricane Center’s ability to determine the intensity of the storm and predict where it could go.

U.S. Air Force 41st Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawks prepare to launch, Aug. 26, 2017, at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

Each storm mission is flown in a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft by a crew made up of at least two pilots, a navigator, an aerial reconnaissance weather officer (ARWO), and a loadmaster.

As told by Staff Sgt. Heather Heiney, 403rd Wing Public Affairs, in the article Hurricane Hunters track Harvey, during the 10 flights into Hurricane Harvey so far, the Hurricane Hunters have flown through the eye of the storm dozens of times. During each pass through the eye, the loadmaster releases a dropsonde that measures wind speed and direction, temperature, dew point and pressure. Data collected by the dropsondes, a Stepped Frequency Microwave Radiometer and visual observations by the ARWO is then transmitted to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) every ten minutes throughout the duration of the mission.

Master Sgt. Erik Marcus, a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron loadmaster, loads a dropsonde into a dropsonde cannon during a flight into Hurricane Harvey Aug. 24, 2017 out of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

“The data we collect is essential to the NHC right now because the capabilities of satellites and drones is just not there yet,” said Maj. Kimberly Spusta, a 53rd WRS ARWO. “To go into the center of the storm to get that data is critical so the NHC can have the most accurate forecasts possible.”

Hurricane Harvey in particular is a quickly developing storm. After entering the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, it took less than 24 hours for the system to grow from a tropical depression into a hurricane.

Maj. Kimberly Spusta, a 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron aerial reconnaissance weather officer, collects weather data for the National Hurricane Center during a flight into Hurricane Harvey Aug. 24, 2017 out of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

“As the Hurricane Hunters, our data is time sensitive and critical for the NHC,” said Maj. Kendall Dunn, a 53rd WRS pilot. “This storm is rapidly intensifying. Between the last flight that landed and our flight taking off, the conditions have changed, so it’s important that we continue to send the NHC the most current and accurate data we can.”

Col. Robert Stanton, the 403rd Wing vice commander, said that it’s important to take NHC watches and warnings seriously because he’s seen first-hand the damage a hurricane can cause after arriving on the Gulf Coast just months before Katrina hit.

For this reason the 53rd WRS will continue to fly Hurricane Harvey and collect data until the storm makes landfall.

The radar on a WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft shows the eye wall of Hurricane Harvey during a flight into the storm Aug. 24, 2017 out of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.

Photo credit: Airman 1st Class Daniel Snider, Staff Sgt. Eric Summers Jr. and Sgt. Heather Heiney / U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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