Weather Warfare
by Tom Robison
Hurricane Isabel 10-17-03 Credit "Winds of Fury"

  "In the eye of a hurricane, you learn things other than of a scientific nature. You feel the puniness of man and his works. If a true definition of humility is ever written, it might well be written in the eye of a hurricane." - Edward R. Murrow, speaking aboard a WB-29, in the eye of Hurricane Edna, 10 Oct 1954 

U.S. Air Force aerial weather reconnaissance began a new era in 1962 when the Air Weather Service received its first Lockheed WC-130 Hercules. Over the intervening years, the Air Force and Air Force Reserve has operated 50 WC-130s: Three A-models, 17 B-models, six E-models, 15 H-models, and nine new J-models. 11

WC-130s have served all over the world, from the jungles of Southeast Asia to the forests of central Europe, from the islands of the Caribbean and the South Pacific to far above the Arctic Circle, from Japan to the Azores to Australia to the West Indies to China to the Middle East. 

The primary mission of the WC-130 has been that of tropical storm reconnaissance, but there have been other, no less demanding operations, such as atmospheric sampling1, rain-making5, fog-seeding 9, winter storm reconnaissance, and the air-drop of Christmas gifts. They have suffered the pounding of torrential rain, gut-wrenching turbulence, and the indignity of battle damage. They have carried their crews through the boredom of synoptic reconnaissance and into the intense snow squalls of the worst winter nor'easter.

This is a meager attempt to chronicle the history of these aircraft. They are presented here in the order that they were obtained by the Air Force.

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3702 62-3492  Sold to Pakistan ca. 1985 
3707  62-3493 Hill AFB as a battle damage trainer
3708 62-3494 Sold to Pakistan ca. 1985; crashed 17 Aug 1988 
3721 62-3495 Sold to Tunisia, January 1998 
3722  62-3496 Sold to Turkey, Aug 1992 

The C-130 had been coveted by the Air Weather Service since it was first introduced in 1955. It was the ideal long-range reconnaissance aircraft, and a perfect replacement for the aging WB-29s then in service. AWS was thus deeply disappointed in mid-1956 when it learned that the Air Staff had approved the transfer of 66 B-50 aircraft to AWS to be modified to WB-50. Even though AWS enjoyed a high priority due to its success at radiation sampling and hurricane reconnaissance with war-weary B-29s, the mission simply did not warrant the procurement of brand new aircraft. 

After a grueling and deadly six years of operations with the WB-50, AWS was finally granted authority to purchase five new C-130Bs, purpose-built at the factory for atmospheric sampling1. They were delivered to the 55th WRS at McClellan AFB, California in October and November of 1962, and were immediately put to work flying daily reconnaissance tracks across the Pacific. 

The five were modified for weather reconnaissance with the AN/AMR-1 Dropsonde Recording System2 at WRAMA in 1965 and were transferred to the 53rd WRS, then at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. The 53rd wasted no time in putting their new Herks to work, recording the first hurricane penetration by a WC-130 on 27 August of that year. (Since that time, the 53rd has logged thousands of hurricane penetrations with the WC-130B, E, H, & J without serious mishap.) 

All five B-models were again modified in 1970-71 under Project Seek Cloud3. 62-3492, which had become something of a guinea pig for the WC-130 fleet, was subsequently modified with the prototype Kaman Aerospace Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System4 (AWRS) in 1972. 

As delivered, these B-models were a natural aluminum finish with full color markings and "day-glo" red panels on the nose, upper wings, and tail surfaces. After modification in 1965, they were painted the standard MAC gloss gray, again with full-size color markings and a variety of MAC, AWS, and Squadron emblems and designations. They remained in this livery until conversion to transport. 

As a result of a number of HC-130H aircraft becoming available to AWS in 1972, the five original B-models were "traded in" and converted to standard transport versions. 62-3496 was converted in 1974, and -3493, -3494, and -3495 were converted in late 1976. 62-3492 remained a WC-130 until 1979, as she was the only Herk equipped with the AWRS. 

62-3494 was sold to Pakistan in 1985. On 17 August 1988, this aircraft crashed shortly after takeoff from Bahawalpur Airport, killing the Pakistani president and several senior military officers. It is suspected that the aircraft was sabotaged or shot down by Pakistani dissidents.

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3659  61-2360 Cut up for scrap, 2001 
3688 61-2365 For sale by Evergreen Aviation 
3706 61-2366 AMARC, CF 146; no outer wings
4047 64-0552 At Evergreen Museum, McMinnville, OR
4048 64-0553 scrapped 3 Apr 2001; cockpit at SUAM
4049 64-0554 AMARC (ABDR), CF 136

Having proven the worth of the C-130 as a sampling and reconnaissance platform, AWS asked for and received six more, in 1965. 61-2360, 61-2365, and 61-2366 were transferred from TAC, and 64-0552, 64-0553, and 64-0554 were brand new. They were modified for weather reconnaissance2 at WRAMA. All six were delivered to AWS in 1965, and transferred to the 54th WRS, Andersen AFB, Guam, that same year. In 1967 they were sent to Lockheed-Marietta for the addition of the atmospheric sampling system, and then returned to the 54th where they remained through mid-1972. For the following fifteen years all of them would transfer 'round and 'round amongst the 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th squadrons, wherever the operational demand was greatest. After the 54th closed in 1987, all six Es were reunited at the 53rd WRS, then at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. 

In 1989, all the E-models were modified once again with the Improved Weather Reconnaissance System (IWRS)8 which had finally reached operational status after three years of testing and evaluation. At the same time, the atmospheric sampling infrastructure was removed from these aircraft, thus ending forever that capability of the WC-130. 

In 1991 the 53rd was deactivated, and all six Es were transferred to the 815th Weather Recon-naissance "Flight" of the 815th TAS, 403rd TAW, an Air Force Reserve unit at Keesler. (For a time the 815th Flight was designated as the 920th Weather Reconnaissance Group.)

In 1993, the 53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters were re-activated as an Air Force Reserve entity at Keesler, and assumed all weather reconnaissance duties, aircraft, and personnel from the 815th. At that time, four C-130H aircraft of the 815th AS, which had previously been WC-130s, were re-converted to the type, and the six E-models were granted a well-deserved retirement in the Arizona sunshine. 

As this is written, -2365 and -0552 are owned by Evergreen Aviation and are for sale; -2360 has been scrapped; -0553 was scrapped in 2001, but the cockpit portion is under restoration at the Southern Utah Air Museum; -2366 is apparently awaiting the grim reaper at Davis-Monthan; and 64-0554, alas, is being used for Aircraft Battle Damage Repair (ABDR) training. This means she is being shot full of holes so that trainees can learn the intricacies of repairing battle damage. Ergo, my favorite Herk of all time is slowly and ignobly being reduced to scrap metal. She earned a better end.

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3127 56-0519 Last seen at Tan Son Nhut in 1999, a derelict 
3130  56-0522 Kelly AFB as a load trainer, IAAFA (no wings)
3145 56-0537  Broken up for parts at Marana, AZ, January 1999 

Few aviation writers and historians seem to be aware that there were three WC-130As. These three were originally trash-haulers, borrowed from TAC in late 1966 for use in Operation "Popeye", the rain-making mission in Southeast Asia, set to begin the following year. The intent of the mission was to create enough year-round rain to keep the Ho Chi Minh trails impassable with mud5. Tests were conducted over Laos in 1966, and the operational missions began in March of 1967 from Udorn RTAFB, Thailand. They were flown by crews of the 54th WRS, rotated on a regular basis from Guam. In addition, 54th crews were sometimes called upon to conduct synoptic weather reconnaissance from Udorn over various areas of Southeast Asia, out to and including the Bay of Bengal. 

The A-models were modified for weather reconnaissance, probably at WRAMA, with the AN/AMR-1 system2. They were not configured for atmospheric sampling. Two were kept at Udorn, with the third rotating to and from Guam for maintenance, repair, and crew changes, from June 1967 through late 1970. When the third one was not enroute to/from Thailand, it was used for normal weather reconnaissance activities from Guam. In late 1970 the A's were replaced with three 1958 B-models, and the rain-making mission continued through mid-1972 with whichever B- or E-models were available from the 54th. After re-conversion to transport, the A's were transferred to Air Force Reserve units. During their brief stint as rain-makers, they flew a total of 1435 "combat" sorties, and it is reported that at least one of them received battle damage. All three A-models wore the standard Southeast Asia camouflage colors and markings, but with no unit designations of any kind. In 1973, 56-0519 was given or loaned to the South Vietnamese Air Force, and it became one of the spoils of war on April 30, 1975. The last reliable sighting was in April of 1999, which reported her corroded and derelict at Tan Son Nhut Airport, Ho Chi Minh City.

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3520 58-0725 Sold to the Philippine Air Force, 1995; retired 1997
3521  58-0726  Sold to the Colombian Air Force, 1992 
3524 58-0729 Scrapped, 2000
3526 58-0731  Sold to the South African Air Force, Oct 1997 
3528 58-0733 Sold to the Ecuadorian Air Force 1992, retired 1999
3530 58-0734 Sold to the South African Air Force, Jan 1998 
3537 58-0740 Destroyed at Homestead AFB by Hurricane Andrew 6
3538 58-0741 Sold to the Argentinean Air Force ca 1992 
3539 58-0742  Sold to Botswana, 1999
3545 58-0747 Sold to the Philippine Air Force Sep 1997
3551 58-0752 Sold to the Chilean Air force ca 1992 
3559 58-0758 Sold to Bolivia 1994; crashed Chimorre, 14Jan2000

Despite the damage and death caused by Hurricane Camille in 1969, there was one positive side-effect: she was a wake-up call to Congress. As a result, $8-million was appropriated to obtain more aircraft for the weather recon fleet, and upgrade all of them with state-of-the-art equipment. The Air Force dubbed the effort Project "Seek Cloud"3

Under Project Seek Cloud, twelve 1958-series C-130Bs were obtained from PACAF. They were old, and some were not in great shape, but a tired C-130 is still the equal of almost any other airplane. All twelve were modified for weather reconnaissance at WRAMA in 1970-71 with the installation of the Seek Cloud equipment suite. None of them were configured for atmospheric sampling. 

Only eleven of these B-models kept their blue suits, however. 58-0731 was given a temporary duty assignment to the civilian sector, with NOAA's Hurricane Research Division. It was first re-numbered N6541C, then N8037, and was nicknamed NOAA's Ark. It served NOAA proudly for eleven years as a hurricane research aircraft. Re-converted to transport in 1981, she then served with the Texas, Ohio, and Kentucky Air National Guards before retiring in 1992. She was later sold to South Africa and was still flying as of late 2003.

Three of the B-models (58-0729, -0742, and -0747) went to Guam to replace the 54th's A-models, and the remaining eight went to the 53rd, then at Ramey AFB, Puerto Rico. (The 53rd had given up two of its 1962 B-models to the 55th in 1970. After receiving the eight 1958 B-models, the 53rd gave up two more of its 1962 B-models to the 54th, in 1972.)

In an effort to improve the radar capability of the WC-130s, 58-0725 (along with 62-3495) received a prototype forward-looking weather radar in 1972. Additionally, 58-0725 received a prototype side-looking weather radar, installed where the forward cargo door had been. This aircraft was conspicuous by a large black panel on the port fuselage just forward of the wing. The performance of both radar sets was considered unsatisfactory, but the cost to develop a new system was prohibitive. The C-130's standard search radar has been upgraded over the years, however, and is apparently sufficient for the weather mission. 

All the 1958 B-models were painted in the standard MAC light gray with full color markings. NOAA's Ark was painted white over gray with a blue cheat line while serving with NOAA, and carried the appropriate civil registrations and NOAA symbols.

The 1958 B-models enjoyed only a short tour with AWS. By 1973 the Air Force had approved the swap of all WC-130Bs (including the five 1962 models) for 15 HC-130Hs from the Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service (ARRS). The B-models were gradually de-modified to trash haulers and found new homes in Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve units. By the 1990s, most of them had been sold to foreign governments, except 58-0729 and 58-0740. 729 has been reduced to beer cans and razor blades. 740, as was noted earlier, was severely damaged at Homestead AFB during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the fuselage was salvaged for use as a loading trainer.

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4088 64-14861 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4099 64-14866 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4103  65-0963 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4104 65-0964 Now HC-130P w/ 79th RQS
4106  65-0965 Disappeared in the South China Sea, 12Oct74 7
4107 65-0966  Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4108 65-0967 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4110 65-0968 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC) Keesler
4111  65-0969 CFB Trenton, Ontario; ground trainer, a/o Aug 2000 
4120  65-0972  Retired to AMARC Dec 1997 (CF 183); no outer wings 
4126 65-0976 Now HC-130P, w/ 39th RQS
4127 65-0977 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4132 65-0980 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler
4139  65-0984 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler 
4140 65-0985 Still WC-130, w/ 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler

As mentioned previously, 15 HC-130H aircraft of the ARRS were made available to AWS in 1972. (Although designated as H-models, they were actually E-model airframes with upgraded engines.) Eleven were converted to WC-130H and delivered between June 1973 and July 1974. Four more were modified in 1975. All were modified with the Project Seek Cloud equipment; none were configured for air sampling. They all retained the dorsal radome for several years, though it appears that vestige is now gone from the fleet, and all still sport the angular nose radome of the rescue-type, though all rescue gear has been removed. 

In 1983, NOAA contracted with Tracor, Inc., for $2.4 million for development of two prototype Improved Weather Reconnaissance Systems (IWRS, also known as "I-Wars").8 USAF contributed about a third of the money. WC-130H 65-0968 received a prototype IWRS in 1985. Three years of operational testing and evaluation followed, whence the remainder of the WC-130 fleet was equipped with the production version. All WC-130s still carry this reconnaissance data system. In 1998, however, the Omega Dropwindsonde system, which was based on the Omega navigation network, was replaced with AVAPS (Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System), developed by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). This system utilizes lightweight digital radiosondes and GPS for positioning and windfinding. 

Color schemes on the H-model have varied over the years. The standard light gray with full color markings is the norm. Most had the dorsal radome painted white, though some have been seen with a black radome at times. Four that had been converted to "trash-hauler" with the 815th in 1990 were painted in the "lizard" camouflage scheme, and remained in that cloak for some time after re-conversion to WC-130 in 1993. As this is written, the 53rd WRS (AFRC) at Keesler AFB is "riding the storm" with the H-models indicated above, though these aircraft will eventually be replaced by the new J-models when Js are fully mission-ready. It is rumored that the WC-130Hs will be converted to HC-130P for service with AFSOC.

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In August, 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida, and sent another wake-up call to Congress. In their wisdom, they determined that the WC-130 fleet had become a little long in the tooth. Despite deep cuts in the defense budget, funding was appropriated for ten new WC-130Js (at roughly $60-million each), and Congress has mandated that the 53rd WRS continue its mission with the latest in aircraft and equipment.10  As this is written, NINE J-models have been delivered from Lockheed, with the LAST ONE to be delivered in the near future. 11

5451 96-5300 53rd WRS; delivered April 2004
5452 96-5301 53rd WRS; delivered 11 October 1999
5453 96-5302 53rd WRS; delivered  October 2003
5473 97-5303 53rd WRS; delivered 29 October 1999
5474 97-5304  53rd WRS; delivered 15 November 1999
5475 97-5305 53rd WRS,  delivered April 2002
5476 97-5306 53rd WRS, delivered June  2002
5486 98-5307 53rd WRS; delivered 6 December 1999
5487 98-5308 53rd WRS; delivered  August 2003 
5501 99-5309 LM Aero, awaiting delivery

As usual, the 53rd WRS wasted no time in putting their new birds to work. On 16 Nov 1999, 96-5301 made fourteen penetrations of Hurricane Lennie during a 14-1/2 hour mission. All systems, it was reported, were "Alpha-1". As with most new systems, however, they take some time to mature, and apparently the WC-130J is not yet ready for prime time.

Indications are that the WC-130J will be the most capable and sophisticated military aircraft ever dedicated to the weather reconnaissance mission. It will be the mainstay of this country's hurricane reconnaissance fleet through 2030 and probably beyond. The J represents a new era in hurricane reconnaissance, and a new commitment by the government to provide the best technology available for the "Riders On The Storm".

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I would be remiss if I didn't mention that there was at least one other "WC-130" operating in the world. That would be the U.K.'s Snoopy, Lockheed c/n 4233, originally an RAF C-130K. It was re-designated Hercules W. Mk 2 and modified for weather research with an 18-ft instrumentation boom protruding from the nose. This necessitated that the radar antenna be relocated to a pod attached to a pedestal above the cockpit. Surely this is one of the most unusual of all C-130 variants, and possibly the most photographed. Alas, the RAF retired Snoopy on 31 Mar 2001. 

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ABDR- Aircraft Battle Damage Repair
IWRS- Improved Weather Reconnaissance System
AFB-Air Force Base
MAC -Military Airlift Command
AFRC-  Air Force Reserve Command
NOAA -National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
AFRES-  Air Force Reserves
PACAF- Pacific Air Forces (of USAF)
AMARC-  Aircraft Maintenance and
RAF -Royal Air Force
Regeneration Center (D-M AFB)
RQS -Rescue Squadron (the "Q" is silent)
ANG-  Air National Guard
RTAFB -Royal Thai Air Force Base
ARRS- Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service
SEA- Southeast Asia
ARWO -Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer
SUAM- Southern Utah Air Museum
AVAPS - Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System
TAC -Tactical Air Command
AWS-  Air Weather Service
WRALC- Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center
AWRS- Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System
WRAMA- Warner-Robins Air Materiel Area
C/N- Constructor's Number
WRS- Weather Reconnaissance Squadron
DOD- Department of Defense
WRW- Weather Reconnaissance Wing
IAAFA- Inter-American Air Forces Academy
U.K. -United Kingdom

1) The Atmospheric Sampling equipment consisted of: 

  • Two U-1 air collection "Foils", located on either side of the cargo compartment just aft of the flight deck. These were approximately 6 feet long by about 2 feet in diameter in the middle, Each contained a "juke-box" style filter-changing mechanism, which held a dozen 18" paper filters in wire screens. The paper filters captured particulate radio-active matter in the air as the airstream passed through the foil. 
  • The I-2 sampling foil, a smaller intake used to continuously monitor outside air to "sniff" for hot spots; the intake and exhaust ports of this device were built into the starboard lower fuselage just under the starboard U-1 Foil. 
  • The "P"-System, a palletized 4-compressor system that was mounted on the floor of the cargo area. It collected whole air samples from the aircraft bleed-air system, and compressed the air into steel bottles for later analysis. 
  • The above equipment was controlled by the sampling console, mounted to the floor of the cargo bay on the starboard side just aft of the forward bulkhead. The equipment was usually operated by an AFTAC technician. 
All of the Atmospheric Sampling equipment (except for the I-2 Foil) was easily removable and was rarely installed unless mission requirements called for it. It was completely independent of the weather reconnaissance system. 

2) The "state of the art" in weather reconnaissance equipment in the 1960s was the Landers, Frary & Clark AN/AMR-1 "Radiosonde Receptor", a one-box tube-type receiver designed to record the data received from the Bendix AN/AMT-6 dropsonde. The system recorded strictly "raw" data on a strip chart, which was then converted into code groups by the dropsonde operator. The ARWO then transmitted this information by voice to ground stations. 

3) The Project "Seek Cloud" modification included the following equipment: 

  • The AN/APN-42 Radar Altimeter, AN/AMQ-28 Rosemount Total Temperature System, and the AN/AMQ-19 Dropsonde receiver and vertical sub-system control panel, all of which had been removed from retired WB-47's; 
  • The AN/AMQ-29 Dropsonde Data Recording System, a.k.a. the Hewlett-Packard 9206A System, consisting of several pieces of off-the-shelf test equipment configured to record and quantify signals from the dropsonde receiver; 
  • HP 9100B Desktop Programmable Calculator; 
  • The AN/AMQ-31 Dropsonde Dispenser, designed around the existing AN/AMT-13 Radiosonde (The dispenser is a marvel of engineering simplicity: two telescoping tubes, with a big spring in the top, and an electrically actuated trap-door at the bottom. After the 'sonde is loaded, the upper half of the tube is lowered and locked, compressing the spring against the top of the 'sonde. The push of a button opened the trap door and the 'sonde was flung from the aircraft.) 
  • The AN/AMQ-34 Cambridge Optical Dewpoint Hygrometer;
  • Barnes Engineering PRT-5 Infrared Sea-Surface Temperature System;
  • Three dual-channel strip chart recorders to collect wind speed and direction data, ambient dew point, sea-surface temperature, pressure altitude and radar altitude. These, along with controllers for the hygrometer and sea-surface thermometer, were installed in a new Weather Officer's console on the flight deck. 
4) In the wake of Hurricane Camille in 1969, the Air Force and the Commerce Department launched a joint effort to develop an advanced storm reconnaissance data collection system. In May, 1971, Kaman Aerospace was awarded over $7-million to develop the Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System (AWRS), later designated the AN/AMQ-32. After a cost overrun of some $2.5 million, Kaman installed the prototype system on 62-3492 in early 1972. The system was installed just behind the forward bulkhead on the starboard side of the cargo bay. (NOAA's Ark may have also carried this system, but the records are unclear.) 

Political infighting between the Air Force, DOD, and the Commerce Dept. delayed the implementation of a production system until the design was obsolescent, so the Air Force and Commerce Dept. started over with a new plan that resulted in the IWRS. (see note 8)

5) The best published discussion of the USAF rain-making effort in Southeast Asia can be found in John Fuller's Thor's Legions. Fuller and Charles Bates briefly discussed this activity in their earlier work, America's Weather Warriors. An article on the 1966 test missions over Laos can be found in the December 1997 issue of VIETNAM magazine. Precious little else has ever been seen in print about this intriguing operation. 

6) Isn't it ironic that a former hurricane hunter aircraft should be destroyed on the ground by a hurricane? Even though 58-0740 was damaged beyond economical repair, the fuselage was salvaged and is being used as a loading trainer at Homestead AFB.

7) 65-0965 had only recently arrived at the 54th WRS after having been converted to WC-130H. On 12 Oct 1974, "Swan 38" departed Clark Air Base in the Philippines on a recon of Typhoon Bess. The last radio contact was at about 2200, when their position was approximately 400 miles northwest of Clark. An investigation board later speculated the crew was on the final leg inbound to make a second fix when they encountered some catastrophic problem. No emergency communications were received. Sea conditions at the time were such that a successful ditching was highly unlikely. Four days of relentless searching by rescue aircraft and two surface ships proved unsuccessful, and the six crewmen were declared missing and presumed dead. The callsign "Swan 38" was retired and a plaque honoring the crew was affixed to the squadron building at Andersen. [Said plaque was removed when the 54th closed in 1987, and it's whereabouts are currently unknown] The crew members, carried on AWS rolls as Killed In Action, were: 

Capt Edward R. Bushnell
1Lt Gary W. Crass
1Lt Michael P. OíBrien
1Lt Timothy J. Hoffman
Tsgt Kenneth G. Suhr
Sgt Detlef W. Ringler

May they rest in Peace. They are the only crew to be lost in 40 years of tropical storm reconnaissance with the C-130. 

8) As stated above, the IWRS resulted from the aborted AWRS. The system is made up of three semi-independent sub-systems: 

  • The Atmospheric Distributed Data System (ADDS) records and computes flight level meteorological data from various angle-of-attack probes, the radar altimeter, the pressure altimeter, ambient temperature and dewpoint sensors, and navigation data. This subset is the "horizontal" part of the system;
  • The Omega Dropsonde Windfinding System (ODWS) processed the temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and direction data received from a dropsonde as it fell to the ocean. The 'sonde determined wind vectors and position via signals from the Omega navigation system. The system automatically processed and formatted the received data into standard format messages and relayed the data to the National Hurricane Center via satellite link. This subset made up the "vertical" part of the system;
  • SATCOM, the Satellite Communication system, provides a rapid and reliable means of communicating critical weather data to the National Hurricane Center or other ground stations.
Since the elimination of the Omega navigation system in 1997, The Omega system components of the IWRS have been replaced by AVAPS, which uses lightweight digital radiosondes with integral GPS receivers for windfinding and positioning. New processing hardware in the dropsonde operator's console includes a personal computer, color monitor, new narrow-band receiver, GPS processors, and radiosonde interface circuitry. Another significant advantage of the system is its ability to track and record data from four radiosondes simultaneously. AVAPS was incorporated into all WC-130H aircraft in 1998. However, the installation in the new J-model has the ARWO pallet and the Dropsonde operator pallet side by side at the forward end of the cargo compartment, just aft of the forward bulkhead (FS245), with the Dropsonde position facing forward and the ARWO position facing aft. The dropsonde dispenser has also been moved to a central location just aft of the Dropsonde console. 

9) In the mid-1960s, Elmendorf AFB, near Anchorage, Alaska, and Rhein-Main AB, near Weisbaden, Germany, were critical to USAF operations in Europe and the Pacific. These bases were located in areas that were very susceptible to "super-cooled" or frozen fog, and anytime these bases were fogged in, it created serious disruptions to USAF missions. 

Scientists had discovered years before that seeding this type of fog with powdered dry ice would clear the fog by creating snow. Many experiments were performed to develop an appropriate seeding method, and eventually a suitable crusher was developed. The task of clearing the fog at these bases was given to the Air Weather Service. 

Therefore, from 1966 through 1972, the 54th WRS packed up and moved to Elmendorf for the seeding season, which usually began in November and ended in mid-February. Likewise, the 53rd WRS conducted similar operations in Germany. 

The ice crusher was a massive, roaring, clattering device that literally hammered 10-pound blocks of dry ice into powder. The dry ice was kept in insulated ice chests which were strapped to the cargo deck. Each 10-pound block was loaded into the crusher by hand. 

The end result is powdered dry ice that merely drops through the hole where the dropsonde dispenser had been, and scatters in the wake turbulence of the aircraft. The dry ice caused frozen fog particles to join together, and the resultant heavier particles fell to the ground as snow, thus clearing the fog. It was a very successful, though expensive, operation. Later, other cheaper methods were developed to dissipate the fog, but none have been quite as effective. 

10) From the FY1997 Appropriations bill: "Sec. 8041. None of the funds appropriated or made available in the Act shall be used to reduce or disestablish the operation of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron of the Air Force Reserve, if such action would reduce the WC-130 Weather Reconnaissance mission below the levels funded in this act." 

From the FY1998 House Appropriations Subcommittee Budget Summary: "WC-130. The Committee continues to strongly believe that the weather reconnaissance mission is critical to the protection of Defense installations and the entire population living along the east and Gulf coasts of the United States. The level specifically funded in this Act is to support a stand-alone squadron with dedicated 10 PAA aircraft, 20 line assigned aircrews, evenly divided between Air Reserve Technician (ART) and Reserve aircrews. The Committee directs the Air Force to provide a minimum of 3,000 flying hours to perform tropical cyclone and winter storm reconnaissance missions, aircrew training, counterdrug support, and airland missions in support of contingency operations during the non-hurricane season or slow periods during the season. The Committee is aware that advancements in two pilot cockpit technology do not provide an adequate margin of safety in the unique and dangerous hurricane reconnaissance missions that range from tropical storms to category 5 hurricanes which have winds in excess of 200 miles per hour. The Committee is pleased that the Air Force agrees with user recommendations to include a fully equipped augmented crew station to be manned by a navigator in all WC-130J aircraft and directs that the final operational requirements document reflect this decision."

11) It is hard to keep track of which WC-130Js are actually being operated by the 53rd WRS.  Some have been delivered to Keesler and then sent back to Lockheed-Martin; some have been loaned to other units for unknown reasons. It is believed the type is not yet fully "storm-qualified".

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This history could not have been written without Lars Olausson's Lockheed Hercules Production List, published every year by the world's premier Herky Nut; 


  • Thor's Legions, Weather Support to the U.S. Air Force and Army, 1937-1987, by John F. Fuller, 1990;
  • America's Weather Warriors, by Charles C. Bates and John F. Fuller, 1986;
  • Air Weather Service: Our Heritage 1937-1987, by Rita M. Markus, Nicholas F. Halbeisen, and John F. Fuller, Military Airlift Command, 1987; 
  • Colors & Markings of the C-130 Hercules, Vol. 7, Special Purpose Aircraft, by Ray Leader;
  • Flying the Weather, The Story of Air Weather Reconnaissance, Otha C. Spencer, 1996;
  • B-29 Superfortress in Detail and Scale, Part 2, Derivatives, Alwin T. Lloyd, Tab Books, 1987.
  • The Fireballs: An Unofficial History of the 54th WRS, Robert Mann, privately published.
  • The Hurricane Hunters, Gary Frey, Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, Spring 1980;
  • World Airpower Journal, Volumes 6,7,8, and 18; 
  • USAF Aerial Weather Reconnaissance Using the Lockheed WC-130 Aircraft; Henderson, Capt. Rodney; Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, Vol. 59, No. 9, September 1978;
  • Sow A Seed Of Science; Cranfill, Capt. John E, and Cole, Sgt. Dave, Airman, November 1971;
  • The Typhoon Hunters; Clarke, Richard, Air Classics, December 1974; 
  • Hurricane Hunters; Lutz, LtJG Galen I., Naval Aviation News, July 1975;
  • The Hurricane Hunters; Sack, Capt Thomas L, Air Classics, issue unknown;
  • Into the Eye; Graham, SMSgt Vickie M, Airman, December 1984;
  • AF Tries Again to Cut Back "Storm Trackers"; Air Force Times, 18 May 1992;
  • Day Of The 'Storm Trackers'; Air Force Magazine, November 1992; 
  • Air Force Crew Keeping an Eye on Storm; Kristin Hussey, Knight-Ridder Newspapers, Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal-Gazette, 11 Jul 1996; 
  • The Hurricane Hunters; Schmid, Major Valerie, AWS Observer, May/June 1997; 
  • USAF Puts Weather Control on the Map; Evers, Stacey, Janes Defense Weekly, 26 Nov 1997; 
  • The Weather War; Stevaux, Craig, VIETNAM Magazine, December 1997; 
  • Aviation Week and Space Technology Magazine: 
-Pakistani Leader Killed in Explosion of Lockheed C-130, 22 Aug 1988, p. 22. 
-Satellites Replace WC-130 Aircraft In Pacific Typhoon Tracking Role, 5 Sep 1988, p. 169.
-Possible Halt in Hurricane Tracking Sparks Congressional Opposition, 5 Sep 1988, p. 175. 
-Soviet Bloc Reconnaissance Aircraft Track Hurricane into Gulf of Mexico, 19 Sep 1988, p. 26.
-Doing Something About the Weather, 19 Sep 1988, Editorial, p. 7.
-USAF, NOAA Develop Plan to Transfer Hurricane Hunting Unit, ??Oct88.
-USAF Reserve to Get Hurricane Hunters, ??Nov88. 
-House Bill Supports Continued WC-130 Use, ??Sep89.
-Storm Cripples South US Airline, Military Facilities, 31 Aug 1992, p. 27.
-Busy Storm Season Boosts WC-130 Mission Tempo, 28 Aug 1995, p. 54.
-USAF Nuclear Detectives Assume New Roles, 3 Nov 1997, p. 51.
-Sampling Missions Unveiled Nuclear Weapon Secrets, 3 Nov 1997, p. 55. 
-C-130J Offers New HUD, Improved Performance, 15 Dec 1997, p. 56. 


  • Correspondence with Maj. Valerie Schmid, MSgt Robert E. Lee, and Tsgt David Blackmon of the 53rd WRS (AFRC), Keesler AFB, Mississippi; 
  • Correspondence with Lars Olausson, Herky Nut Emeritus, Såtenäs, Sweden; 
  • Correspondence with Ms. Lil Wilbur, Mr. John Fuller, and Ms. Rita Markus, current and former AWS Historians; 
  • Corrections and updates from various e-mail correspondents on the C-130 Internet Mailing List (with particular thanks to Bob Daley).
  • For more books and articles about the C-130, see the bibliography at 
  • For photos of WC-130s on the net, click on these links: &

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This document is as accurate as I can make it using the published sources available to me. Comments, suggestions, additions and corrections are encouraged. Tom Robison


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