Take a training flight with the Hurricane Hunters - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Take a training flight with the Hurricane Hunters

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Doug Walker – bio | email

KEESLER AFB, MS (WLOX) - Providing life saving information to the National Hurricane Center when a storm is threatening the United States, is one of the chief missions for the Hurricane Hunters at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. It's a mission the men and women of the 403RD Reserve Wing take very seriously.

Wednesday's training mission began with a safety briefing for reporters covering the flight.  Then the engines on the c-130J were given one last check before being fired up for the two hour training run. 

During takeoff, condensation hissed through exposed piping. Within minutes, we were 10,000 feet in the sky.  Co-pilot Major Jerry Rutland said there's nothing he'd rather be doing.   

"It's a big satisfaction," Rutland said.  "That's one of the main reasons I do it, because our data that we supply them is going to save lives and save money." 

During each flight, that life saving information is entered onto a computer base, which helps the crew better track future storms. 

The men and women who fly these missions come from all walks of life, and all different backgrounds.  One of those is Tsgt Gabe Peterson.  

"In the civilian world, I'm a nurse," Peterson said. "And so this is kind of like a chance for me to have an alter ego and lets me do something different and exciting. Not that I don't like nursing, this is just a different way to give back and save lives." 

Flying into hurricanes has always been a dangerous job, a job these men and women do on a regular basis.  But new technology has made that job safer and each flight more effective. 

Capt. Christopher Dyke is an Air Force meteorologist who almost prefers the confines of the four engine plane. 

"It's a lot safer than being, in my opinion, being on the ground. Because on the ground your biggest hazards are inland flooding and storm surge and debris flying around." 

The key to any flight is the Dropsonde, which is dropped right into the heart of a hurricane to measure wind speeds and pressure, among other factors.  The information is invaluable, according to Peterson.   

"The technology is always improving. So those numbers, like being able to increase the accuracy by 30 percent , those numbers are always going up." 

Hurricane Season begins June 1, and runs through the end of November.  During a busy year, the Hurricane Hunters can fly hundreds of missions.

One other interesting note, you can actually track the flights of the hurricane hunters this year in real time using Google Earth. Or take a "cyberflight" right now with the Hurricane Hunters online at http://www.hurricanehunters.com/cyberflight.htm.

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