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WC-130 Hurricane Hunter
The WC-130J Hurricane Hunter
Role Weather reconnaissance aircraft
Manufacturer Lockheed
Lockheed Martin
Introduction 1962
Status Active
Primary user United States Air Force
Unit cost
Approximately US$48.5 million (FY 1998 constant dollars)
Developed from C-130 Hercules
C-130J Super Hercules

The Lockheed WC-130 Hurricane Hunter is a high-wing, medium-range aircraft used in weather reconnaissance missions. The aircraft is a modified version of the C-130 transport configured with palletized weather instrumentation for penetration of tropical disturbances and storms, hurricanes and winter storms to obtain data on movement, size and intensity. The WC-130 is the weather data collection platform for the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron.


The WC-130B model was operational with the former Military Airlift Command's Air Weather Service from 1962 to 1979, the WC-130E model from 1965 to 1993, followed by the WC-130H model from 1973 to 2005 with the 53rd, 54th, 55th and 56th Weather Reconnaissance Squadrons under the 9th Weather Reconnaissance Wing. Three WC-130A models were operational in South East Asia from 1967 to 1970 with the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Some of the WC-130Hs were later redistributed without weather reconnaissance equipment to other Air Force Reserve Command and Air National Guard wings for use as training or operational support aircraft. As of 2015, only the WC-130J model, introduced in 1999, is in service in an active weather reconnaissance role, with the aircraft being operated by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, part of the 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command at Keesler AFB, Mississippi.[1]

Operational history

The WC-130J and NOAA's WP-3D Orion provide vital tropical cyclone forecasting information. They penetrate tropical cyclones and hurricanes at altitudes ranging from 500 to 10,000 feet (150 to 3,050 m) above the ocean surface depending upon the intensity of the storm. The aircraft's most important function is to collect high-density, high-accuracy weather data from within the storm's environment. This includes penetration of the center or hurricane eye of the storm. This vital information is instantly relayed by satellite to the National Hurricane Center to aid in the accurate forecasting of hurricane movement and intensity.

The WC-130 is flown exclusively from Keesler AFB by the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, an AFRC organization assigned to the 403rd Wing known as the Hurricane Hunters. The hurricane reconnaissance area includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and eastern and central Pacific Ocean areas.


The Lockheed C-130 has been operated as a Weather Reconnaissance aircraft in the following sub-types:

Lockheed WC-130A

Three aircraft were converted to WC-130A standard for use by the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, (56-519, 56-522 and 56-537), flying from Guam and Udorn RTAFB in Thailand. All three were returned to C-130A standard, with 56-519 returning to Vietnam where it was captured at Tan Son Nhut Air Base on the surrender of the South to the Viet Cong, remaining there to this day.

WC-130J on tarmac at Dobbins Air Reserve Base

Lockheed-Martin WC-130J

The WC-130J carries a minimal crew of five: pilot, co-pilot, navigator, aerial reconnaissance weather officer and weather reconnaissance loadmaster. The crew and the aircraft are assigned to the 53d Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, an Air Force Reserve Command unit assigned to the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, MS. The 53rd WRS, known as the Hurricane Hunters, is responsible for the reconnaissance mission in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico, and Eastern and Central Pacific Ocean areas. Instrumentation is mounted in the aircraft on removable pallets, giving the aircraft a standard cargo mission capability also.

The aircraft is not equipped for aerial refueling, but with wing-mounted auxiliary fuel tanks is capable of staying aloft almost 18 hours at an optimum cruise speed of more than 300 mph (480 km/h). An average weather reconnaissance mission lasts 11 hours and covers almost 3,500 miles (5,600 km). The crew collects and reports weather data as often as every minute.

From the front of the cargo compartment, the Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer operates the computerized weather reconnaissance equipment and acts as flight director in the storm environment. The weather officer also evaluates other meteorological conditions such as turbulence, icing, visibility, cloud types and amounts, and ocean surface winds. The ARWO uses the equipment to determine the storm's center and analyze atmospheric conditions such as pressure, temperature, dew point and wind speed.

A critical piece of weather equipment on board the WC-130J is the dropsonde system. The GPS Dropsonde Windfinding System is a cylindrically-shaped instrument about 16 inches (41 cm) long and 3.5 inches (8.9 cm) in diameter and weighs approximately 2.5 pounds (1.1 kg). The dropsonde is equipped with a high frequency radio and other sensing devices and is released from the aircraft over water. As the instrument descends to the sea surface, it measures and relays to the aircraft a vertical atmospheric profile of the temperature, humidity and barometric pressure and wind data. The dropsonde is slowed and stabilized by a small parachute. Through use of the Advanced Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System (AVAPS), the Dropsonde System Operator receives, analyzes and encodes the data for transmission by satellite.

Between May 2007 and February 2008, all ten WC-130J were equipped with the Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR or "smurf"), which continuously measures the surface winds and rainfall rates below the aircraft, mounted in a radome on the right wing outboard of the number four engine.

The WC-130J provides data vital to tropical cyclone forecasting. The WC-130J usually penetrates hurricanes at an altitude of approximately 10,000 feet (3,000 m) to collect meteorological data in the vortex, or eye, of the storm. The aircraft normally flies a radius of about 100 miles (160 km) from the vortex to collect detailed data about the structure of the tropical cyclone.

The information collected makes possible advance warning of hurricanes and increases the accuracy of hurricane predictions and warnings by as much as 30%. Collected data are relayed directly to the National Hurricane Center, in Miami, Fla., a Department of Commerce weather agency that tracks hurricanes and provides warning service in the Atlantic area.

Accidents and incidents

On 12 October 1974 a WC-130H operated by the U.S. Air Force's 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron and its six crew disappeared during Typhoon Bess. No trace of the aircraft or its crew has ever been found.

Specifications (WC-130J Weatherbird)

Data from 403rd Wing, USAF Reserve[2]

General characteristics

  • Crew: Five; pilot, co-pilot, navigator, aerial reconnaissance weather officer and weather reconnaissance loadmaster
  • Length: 97 ft 9 in (29.79 m)
  • Wingspan: 132 ft 7 in (40.41 m)
  • Height: 38 ft 10 in (11.84 m)
  • Max. takeoff weight: 155,000 lbs (70,310 kg)
  • Powerplant: 4 × Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprops, more than 4,700 shp (3,500 kW) each
  • Propellers: 6-blade Dowty R391 propeller, 1 per engine


  • Maximum speed: 417 mph at 22,000 ft (362 kn; 671 km/h at 6,706 m)
  • Range: 1,841 mi with 35,000 lbs payload (2,963 km with 15,880 kg payload)
  • Service ceiling: 28,000 ft with 42,000 lbs payload (8,534 m with 19,050 kg payload)

See also


  1. "WC-130 Hercules". 18 August 2009. Archived from the original on 18 July 2012. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  2. "WC-130J Hercules". Retrieved 5 December 2010. 

External links

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