Hurricane hunters from NOAA fly through the eye of Hurricane Irma on Sept. 5, 2018. Credit: NOAA

Go inside the cockpit of a NOAA Hurricane Hunter plane

As an organization under the 403rd wing of the United States Air Force Reserve Command, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known as the Hurricane Hunters, is the only organization allowed to fly into thunderstorms, tropical storms and hurricanes.

Captain Will Simmons, a pilot of the Hunter’s WC-130J aircraft, has been flying through storms for years. In fact, Simmons flew through 74 eyes of hurricanes.

“One time I flew in six times in one mission,” Simmons said.

And he even flew through Hurricane Irma about 10 times while it was a category five storm.

The WC-130J is not your typical jumbo jet. It is powered by four Rolls-Royce turbo-propeller engines unlike the standard jet engines.

“One of the reasons is that hurricane hunting, a lot of the date we need is close to the surface,” Simmons said. “Propeller aircraft are more efficient at lower levels.”

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Simmons added, “Another thing people don’t think of is there’s a lot of water, of course, in hurricanes but those propellers help deflect some of that water from being ingested in the engines. If too much water gets into the engines, something bad can happen.”

Simmons, his team and that aircraft are crucial for the improvement of hurricane forecasts. The on board loadmaster and dropsonde operator is the individual tasked with dropping a sonde into a the eye of the hurricanes.

“As it falls at about 2,000 feet per minute it collects things like temp, pressure, wind speed, dew point and all that information is sent back to our plane in a matter of seconds,” Simmons said.

That data is used to improve weather models and help forecast the strength and movement of a hurricane.

“We knew that this hurricane was going to impact a lot of people on the ground and the data we were collecting was definitely going to be used in a great way to help forecast where the hurricane was going to make landfall,” Simmons said.

Hurricane Irma was the first category five storm that Simmons flew into.

“What I will remember most of Hurricane Irma was how it looked inside the storm,” Simmons said.

The 2018 NOAA Hurricane Awareness Tour made a visit Friday at the Lakeland Linder Regional Airport.

Attendees can meet NOAA hurricane experts, scientists and crew members. The tour is taking place during National Hurricane Preparedness Week, which runs from May 6 to May 12.

For more information on the tour, click here. 

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