Hurricane hunters share 'weirdest experiences'

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Often, while driving along Highway 90, I have seen aircrafts like the C-130J and WC 130-J Hercules flying low over the Mississippi Sound as they cruise into Keesler Air Force Base. Many times, I've marveled at the low attitude at which these machines can fly.

Upon these sightings, I also immediately remember a story about a neighbor my parents had during their time on the coast.  He was an airman at Keesler.  When my mother remarked on that same observation of low flight, the jovial neighbor replied, "Oh, those things belly flop in the Sound all the time."

Of course, he was kidding. But, that anecdote still came to the forefront of my mind when I felt the Hercules take off underneath me and several other media members as we tagged along on a training flight.

However, our flight did not "belly flop." In fact, it was a flight that was as fun as it was informative.

The team I was flying with is part of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters.

This group of specialized, reservist flyers actually began as a bar bet.  In 1944, few Army Air Corp pilots made a bet that an American built single engine aircraft was inferior to its British counterpart.

The bet made, a few weeks later Major Joe Duckworth flew his "Texan" trainer into the eye of hurricane, twice.  From that flight, the now famous Hurricane Hunters were born.

While this team does fly into the heart of storms, much of their work is less glamorous.  A team of Hurricane Hunters will fly out and investigate any storm system the National Hurricane Center deems suspicious.

"Often time, we don't find circulations, which is just as important as if we find something that would generate a Cat 5 storm. We probably investigate five areas of interest before we find something that will turn into something significantly media worthy," said Hurricane Hunter Navigator Mark Stevens.

The Hurricane Hunters teams are not without their stories.  When a viewer question prompted the five-member team I observed to tell their "weirdest experiences," they were eager to share.

Weather Officer Christopher Dyke told me of a flight last year.  The plane had traveled into the eye of a hurricane near the Yucatan Peninsula, when suddenly the radar failed.

The team had to navigate its way, partially blind, back to the airport and change plans before completing their mission.

How do you fly without radar, I asked Dyke.  "Very carefully," he immediately replied.

Another memorable flight happened for the team's Loadmaster, Jenna Tucker.

Tucker says she was on a flight that was going through a heavy lightning storm.  When lightning actually struck the aircraft, the plane went completely black for a few seconds.  "I think that was the scariest moment," said Tucker.

The power quickly returned without incident.

I'm sure the stories don't end there.  However, for every "belly flop," there are countless missions that save lives and resources thanks to the hard work of these men and women.

With the damage and destruction that can be spread by a single storm, every piece of data gathered by these brave air reservists could be the difference between life and death.

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