My short bio: I am an Instructor Pilot with the US Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, AKA the Hurricane Hunters. We fly 10 WC-130J aircraft into hurricanes in order to provide data to the National Hurricane Center. We fly with a minimum crew of five: Pilot, Co-pilot, Navigator, Meteorologist, and Dropsonde Operator/Loadmaster. I have been flying into storms since 2002 and have penetrated the eye of a hurricane over 60 times. I most recently flew into Hurricanes Matthew on two different missions including one while it was a Cat 3 and one that was the last of our missions into that storm right before in was downgraded back to a Tropical Storm. I’d be happy to tell you all about our mission.

Keep in mind that this is from me personally, and not an official communication from the USAF or the 403d Wing.

My Proof: (me) (CNN Digital Interview)

Comments: 224 • Responses: 90  • Date: 

FootBa11100 karma

Did you notice that I accidentally stole your golf clubs?

When your son and I went to the driving range this summer, kinda forgot to take them out of my car.

Best wishes, your son's pilot friend.

JJRags63 karma

Bring them BACK! After storm season, I might have more time to play. :-)

JJRags78 karma

What I meant to say was... I bought a new set. You owe me $1,000!

KC10Pilot45 karma

Do most of your new hires come from active duty C-130 units, UPT hires, or do you also take folks from other airframes as say...the KC-10?

JJRags25 karma

Yes, to all of the above. No real formula.

thedaveness17 karma

Follow up question. Navy photojournalist vet here and I have been wondering if you guys have someone like me attached to your squad? After seeing the semi ok footage of what y'all do I have been kinda obsessed with knowing why there isn't better quality footage of both the eye and y'all doing your thing. I was flight qual'ed for my entire enlistment and admittedly never heard of this job. I would have foamed at the mouth at hearing this and would be out there in a heart beat.

JJRags4 karma

We have a full-time Public Affairs office. Try looking at There might be better pictures there. The truth is that we are pretty busy at those Kodak moments. And we are reluctant to add unnecessary crew members.

TheSolarian23 karma

Please, tell me all about your mission!

What's it like seeing a hurricane that most pilots avoid and saying "Sweet. Going to fly into that one.?"

and, what's the weirdest thing you've seen flying into the eye of the hurricane, or just around hurricanes?

JJRags42 karma

Well... the mission is for gathering data. We fly the plane as straight and level as we can (considering the turbulence) while the airborne meteorologist gathers data and sends it to the National Hurricane Center. Ask specific questions and I'll try to answer them.

The best part of the mission is the excitement of flying through the eye wall. It can be quite bumpy although not all are. I flew Hurricane Nicole today. It wasn't very bumpy.

The weirdest thing I've ever seen in a hurricane was a flock of birds "trapped" in the eye in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico. They flew right into the plane (not a happy ending for them). I think they were probably exhausted and willing to try anything.

TheSolarian20 karma

How on Earth do fly a plane straight and level into a hurricane? What makes the planes you fly able to withstand that, while most other planes would presumably have a very bad time?

What does the transition phase feel like from moving from the hurricane to the eye? I presume the noise is very different for one.

JJRags56 karma

Think about the wind's effect on the plane like a current on a boat. The current doesn't hurt the boat. It just changes its course. It's the waves that make the boat ride uncomfortable and possibly damage it. We call the waves in the air "turbulence". It's that up and down movement that can bother the plane and crew. We know it is coming, so we maintain a speed that can withstand it. The C-130 is a very rugged plane and was designed to handle quite a bit of abuse in combat situations, so the turbulence is not as bad for it (at the right speed) as you might think. The fact that the C-130 is a turboprop plane helps too. The water encountered in a hurricane would be bad for the intake of a turbofan or turbojet engine.

The transition through the eye wall of some storms can be very bumpy. It can consist of a ring of thunderstorms that we must penetrate to get into the eye. In a major hurricane, we will do that from 10,000 feet. The top of the storm might be as high as 60,000 feet. We are wearing noise canceling headsets, so, to be honest, I've never really noticed the sound difference. That's an interesting question though. I'll pay attention next time.

TheSolarian14 karma

Comprehensive and concise answers!

Thank you very much!

Also, another question. When you tell people what you do, do they do a double take and say something like "Wow. That sounds dangerous."?

JJRags25 karma

Funny. Yes they do. I give my family and friends a hard time when they introduce me as a Hurricane Hunter. I keep telling them that I hope to someday have another redeeming quality they can use to introduce me.

TheSolarian10 karma

Does it ever occur to you that what you do is normal to you because you do it so often, but to everyone else it's more a question of "You do what know? Fly INTO Hurricanes? Those things everyone else tries to avoid? Wow." And they sit there not having any idea what questions to ask?

JJRags13 karma

I'm sure I take it for granted some. It probably isn't as sedate as I think it is sometimes. But it probably isn't as crazy as others think. I'm just glad that we provide data for such a good cause. I hope that people listen to all of the warnings and directions given, so I don't have to take my crew into them for nothing.

TheSolarian3 karma

Do you have any data on that? How the information you gather affects people in the real world?

I presume it does, but do you have any statistics on that?

JJRags17 karma

We are told by the National Hurricane Center that our data allows them to increase the accuracy of their predictions by 25%.

KC135Boomer6 karma

I bet your crew chiefs loved that!! I hated having to wipe up bird guts and inspect the dents and engines after each strike.. thanks for your service Col.

JJRags11 karma

That's one of MANY things for which we owe our gratitude to the crew chiefs. They are awesome!

shaunc15 karma

Do you see your team ever getting obsoleted by the Global Hawk or other UAVs? How many sondes do you drop on a typical flight, is that something that could be carried and deployed by a drone instead? Thanks for risking yourself to keep folks safe!

JJRags23 karma

First, you are quite welcome. Thanks for your support!

There is already a Global Hawk mission around and above hurricanes. And yes, they do drop sondes. I don't know if they will ever replace us, but I'm sure when/if they can do the same job with resources the government wants to spend, then I guess they might.

There is no real "typical" number that we drop. It is sometimes up to a forecaster at the National Hurricane Center in Miami who talks to us via satellite. Our airborne meteorologist also decides about when to drop them for the best data. It would not be uncommon to drop 10 or so on a 6-hour mission in the storm.

bobbydillon2212 karma

ELI5: sondes?

teh_Rabbit25 karma

You know those little paratrooper guys that you could throw up into the air and their chutes would open and float to the ground. Well, a dropsonde is like that little paratrooper dude but is a cardboard tube with a GPS, a radio transmitter, and a bunch of weather sensors. The airplane flys really high up and they drop the sonde out the bottom of the plane. It floats down with its chute and collects weather data that is then sent to the plane that then sends it to the weathermen at the Hurricane Center in Florida.

For a non-five year old write up go here:

JJRags1 karma

Pretty good answer. Thanks. The only clarification I have is that in our case, the plane doesn't fly really high. We might be as low as 5,000 feet pressure altitude and still drop them.

JJRags8 karma

Dropsondes are small weather sensing devices that are dropped through a tube (AKA our "cannon") out of the bottom of the plane and fall to the surface of the water. While dropping, they gather vital information (winds, pressure, humidity, etc) and transmit that information back to the Dropsonde Operator on the plane. That allows us to gather information from even lower than we fly.

pm-me-ur-window-view12 karma

The C-130 is a grand, tough old lady. How well does she still keep at her age? How much longer do you think the USAF will fly her, and what aircraft do you think would take her place when the day comes?

JJRags22 karma

I love the C-130! I imagine she will remain the workhorse of the USAF for years to come. They are still building them new. We fly the "new" J-model.

felixlightner9 karma

How do you rate the worse turbulence you have in on a mission to the worst you have encountered on a passenger airline. It a mission much much worse? I hate turbulence when I fly.

JJRags15 karma

MOST missions encounter no more than what you might get on a "bad" airline flight.

SOME flights encounter what is called "severe" turbulence. In those moments, the flight instruments cannot be read. We just fight to keep the airplane pointed in the right direction. That usually doesn't last long.

felixlightner3 karma

That would scare the crap out of me. You have my respect!

JJRags8 karma

Thanks for the respect. We are glad to do the job.

felixlightner1 karma

You might be interested to know. My father flew 63 missions in a B-26 in N. Africa and Italy in WW2. He rotated back to US and was headed to Japan in P-38 when the war ended. After the war and USAAF he ferried planes to Alaska. Those guys were something else. He would have loved talking to you. Thanks for all you do.

JJRags3 karma

I would have enjoyed that conversation too. I'm sure he was amazing!

outlandishoutlanding3 karma

How do you fly IFR if you can't read the instruments?

JJRags5 karma

For the few short moments that the turbulence is so bad that we can't read the instruments, we just try to keep the shiny side up and make corrections when the turbulence subsides. I know that doesn't sound good. We don't really like it either. It doesn't happen often and it doesn't last long. But it's enough to get your attention.

RB2111 karma


JJRags1 karma

Once it's a hurricane, true. However, we fly weather systems long before they are news worthy or hurricanes.

MushuDenise9 karma

Did you set out to do this type of flying? How did your career path take you to this?

JJRags13 karma

Great question! No. I just wanted to be an instructor pilot in the USAF. First I flew T-43s (older B-737s) and eventually upgraded to instructor in that. Then, I flew the T-38 (supersonic jet trainer) as an instructor. When I left active duty, I got a job in the reserves as close to home as I could find. That was flying the tactical C-130s. Our base flies two C-130 missions. I am one of a handful of pilots that gets to fly both. I fly the tactical mission (combat) and the weather mission.

goof98 karma

What's the greatest difference you've ever seen between your wind corrected heading carat and your actual heading?

JJRags9 karma

Maybe 40 degrees. It's less noticeable since we are flying on instruments. You don't really feel the difference like you would if you were landing in that crosswind.

redditreviewer8 karma

What is the worse experience you had flying into a hurricane? Has there ever been fatalities associated with flying into a hurricane?

JJRags27 karma

I've had some moments when the plane was being kicked around pretty good by turbulence. For the typical "control freak" pilot, that is a bit unnerving. Thankfully, those moments don't last long.

We have only lost one C-130 on a storm mission. It was back in the 70s when we weren't able to maintain constant contact with our ground support, so we aren't really sure what happened. There was very little of the plane recovered. It might not have had anything to do with the weather. We just don't know.

redditreviewer12 karma

What you and the rest of your team does saved tens of thousands of American lives, so you've earned my respect. Keep up the great work!

JJRags15 karma

Thanks for your support of our mission. Most of us live in a coastal community, so we are happy to do it.

nixity2 karma

Has there ever been a time when you felt you were in danger?

JJRags2 karma

Not during one of these missions. We have been doing this a long time and have learned how to mitigate the threats to safety. We know the safest altitudes, safest speeds, radar returns to avoid, etc.

oldjennifer8 karma

Also, you said you were an you have many people deciding it's not the right job (path) for them? Or have you ever had to tell someone "'re not cut out for this particular type of job"?

JJRags15 karma

By the time they get to our unit, they are all fully qualified pilots in the C-130. I don't think they would apply here if they thought they would not be able to handle it. Our base also has tactical C-130s (more typical combat airdrop mission). That flying is much more demanding on your pilot skills. I like both missions!

pm-me-ur-window-view7 karma

How dangerous would you say your job is?

JJRags22 karma

Well... I'll tell you... if we didn't take it seriously and learn from decades of experience, it would be quite dangerous. As it turns, though, we've been doing it since the 50s. So we know how to avoid things like tornadoes, heavy hail, etc. We do get hit by lightning sometimes, but we know how to avoid getting hit a lot. So, I guess it is like many other jobs in that it can be made safer by considering the threats and mitigating them as best you can.

oldjennifer8 karma

Avoid lightening? Is it different up in the midst of things than it looks down on the ground? As someone that is terrified of storms (lightening, thunder, wind and rain) and has never been through anything close to a hurricane...MUCH respect to you!

JJRags24 karma

I grew up with a fear of storms (I got from my grandmother). Oddly enough, they just don't bother me as much in the air. We do get hit occasionally by lightning, but all airplanes are designed to dissipate electricity back into the atmosphere. We can't dissipate a lightning strike completely, so they can effect the plane some. But I like to tell people that if something is important for a plane, they give us more that one. As an example, I only need one electric generator to fly all day - they built 5 generators into the plane. The designers and mechanics take very good care of us.

jetpilot877 karma

What kind of radar do you have on board? Any other specialized equipment for the pilots themselves?

JJRags11 karma

We started with a typical low power color weather radar. However, our navigators soon discovered in test flights that they weren't able to see well enough to penetrate the weather. They can convert it on the fly to a monochrome radar giving them more features for a closer look. Nothing special for the pilots. We really like the HUD on the new C-130s, but it has nothing to do with Hurricane Hunting. It's just nice to have from a pilot's perspective.

dsmiller09167 karma

How is it that a monochrome radar gives more detailed information than the color radar? Is the resolution higher?

JJRags9 karma

Color radar only uses 5 colors. Monochrome uses 16 shades of green. It also has some features that the color radar doesn't offer allowing them to differentiate better between different intensities of rain/hail.

I-Am-Disturbed6 karma

First, thank you for doing what you do!
Having so much experience flying into hurricanes, and not necessarily taking into account the strength, do they all seem to behave pretty similar? Or, is each hurricane unique? Have you ever flown into one and thought, "huh, this ain't right..."

JJRags14 karma

They are very unique! I tell people that's why they have names - each one has its own personality. Some are "crankier" than others. Some are very smooth in the plane. Some are not! Bigger/stronger storms do not necessarily generate more bumps for the plane.

I flew Hurricane Dean in 2007 as it made landfall as a Cat 5. THAT was a bumpy storm. We were ready to head home at the end of that mission.

totallyaaccountname6 karma

Whats the differance between your wc-130j and a typical c-130? I'd imagine you'd have a different amount of prop blades and material, anything big like that?

JJRags9 karma

There is no structural difference as far as strengthening. Same engines and props too. The WC-130J uses the optional external fuel tank for the longer missions. It also has some added weather equipment. It can be converted into a combat C-130 if ever needed.

peepingthom_6 karma

What is the longest single flight mission that you have been apart of? Are the planes equipped to be re-fueled while flying?

JJRags10 karma

Thankfully, no airborne refueling capability in the WC-130J. We can last about 14 hours. My longest mission was a 12.8-hour mission. Today, I flew 10.6 for a mission out to Hurricane Nicole.

needhelpforphysicspr5 karma

I am assuming the bathroom and microwave you got makes it a bit more enjoyable?

JJRags5 karma


fearlesscontender5 karma

Do you guys get callsigns? If so, what is yours? Also, what's the best part about the job?

JJRags14 karma

Call signs are typically associated with pilots of smaller planes. Some of us have nicknames that we either earned by something different or we get them because of our names. Mine is sometimes "Rags" cause of my last name, but a lot of people just use my name.

When we fly, we don't use names. We are taught to call each crew member by their crew position. The names we use are: "Pilot", "Co" (copilot), "Nav" (Navigator), "Weather" (Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer), and "Load" (Weather Loadmaster/Dropsonde Operator)

MichaelRyanSD4 karma

Damn, and I thought us Army Aviators got the call sign shaft. We usually get a unit call sign based on the mission like"dust-off" for medevac missions and a number somewhat based on seniority.

JJRags13 karma

Oh... I see what you meant. Our squadron callsign is "Teal". The operational missions use "Teal" plus a 2-digit number assigned depending on the mission. Each individual aircraft commander gets a 2-digit number also. I picked 63. So on training missions, my callsign is always Teal63.

MushuDenise4 karma

Have you ever had to abort a mission or flight due to storm severity? Or is it just a matter of changing course?

JJRags16 karma

There is no storm too strong. Some crews have even flown Super Typhoons in the Pacific. The horizontal winds (that damage things on the ground) only change the course of the plane. We can easily counter that by turning into the winds and flying sideways. Much like swimming up stream in order to hit a spot directly across from you.

gimp2x2 karma

To be fair, there was at least one storm that was too strong in 1974 (Typhoon Bess) or at least we can assume it was storm related- what changes or technology do you fly with now that makes you confident such an event is unlikely to occur? I assume safety with the technology you have now is much better- but what is the general consensus with those of you who fly in hurricanes on that event?

JJRags2 karma

Well... we can't really assume that their problem was storm related. Nor can we rule that out. The mishap investigation was inconclusive. These days, we remain in constant contact with the NHC and our home base, so we can tell someone if we experience a problem. That was not the case back then, so we just don't know. Their call sign was Swan 38. We fund raise for an annual scholarship given in their honor.

im2lazy7894 karma

Is water ingestion causing a flame-out from precip an active consideration as you fly into the storm? Have you experienced any engine outs while in a hurricane/tropical storm? Would ditching even be possible inside the storm or is crew bailout a safer alternative given the surf conditions. Are you folks separate from the NOAA Corps? When you cross the eye wall how much of a change in altitude does your pressure altimeter show assuming your radar altimeter reading stays constant. Are you hiring recently minted PPLs?

JJRags8 karma

Water ingestion is definitely something we consider. That's one of the reasons that we are happy to be in a turboprop.

We have lost engines before. That means its time to head back home. The plane flies fine on 3 of the 4 engines. If we lose 2, it becomes more "interesting".

Ditching is something that we train for and discuss before every mission. I personally would prefer to ditch than to bail out into in a hurricane. Bailing out would likely only be considered if the plane was not capable of being landed or ditched. In that case, it might not be stable enough to get to a chute and bail out either. Bad day.

The NOAA Hurricane Hunters are a different unit. They fly P-3s. They primarily fly into Hurricanes for research. We fly them to find out what is going on currently with a particular storm. We both report data to the NHC. We often "see" them in the storm and deconflict our missions. We both drop sondes, so we need to keep an eye on each other.

We do hire people who need to go to USAF pilot training. It's a competitive process. Contact your USAF Reserve recruiter if you are interested. Good luck!

im2lazy7892 karma

Thanks! I'm sure there's enough rudder on the 130 to compensate for a couple engines out, but I'd imagine climbing would be akin to an over-gross 150 on a high, hot, and humid day at around 200 FPM Max.

JJRags5 karma

The ceiling on 2 engines is often below 10,000 feet. Once you configure to land, it gets real.

shylowheniwasyoung4 karma

As a person who just survived Matthew, thank you! "Your" info that the storm was weakening as it moved towards Jax made my Thursday last week! My question is- what were your thoughts on your first mission? What does a hurricane look like when approached at altitude?

JJRags7 karma

If the storm is fully developed, the eye will have a "stadium effect". It is like looking at a stadium built out of cotton. It surrounds you and is smaller at the base. If not fully developed, it might look like any other cloud formation. We just have to get closer to the thunderstorms than other planes are allowed.

stabzmcgee3 karma

Seen any ufos?

JJRags19 karma

Not yet, but I'll keep an eye out. Even UFOs know to stay away from Hurricanes!

miles_allan3 karma

How easy is it to manoeuvre inside the eye of a hurricane? And if it's only moving at 20-30 kph, how does a rapidly moving aeroplane stay inside the eye?

JJRags14 karma

We don't actually try to stay inside it. We find the center of low pressure, mark that spot, and gather data about it all while heading out the other side of the eye wall. If we must (and if there is enough room), we can circle briefly inside the eye to find the center of low pressure, but that isn't normally needed. We don't want just eye data. The eye isn't the only part that can be a problem for folks on the ground. We actually fly an "X" pattern through the eye over and over starting from about 100 miles away from the eye in 4 different directions. Since the storm is rotating, that gives us a good "picture" of the storm.

capt_readit3 karma

I was following the flights through Matthew on FlightAware, and wondered about the pattern I was seeing, and if you were trying to come at all directions. Thanks!

JJRags10 karma

Our standard is an "X" pattern coming at the storm from 4 different directions over and over. It gets modified by our onboard weather officer or by the NHC via a satellite conversation as needed to supply the best data. We also never fly over land in the storm environment, so land will cause us to alter our standard pattern.

jenkinsear6911 karma

Why won't you fly over land?

JJRags8 karma

Two main reasons: 1) We aren't needed as much. There are plenty of weather observation stations on land. 2) It is a bit more risky for aircraft. The interaction with land creates more up and down movement in the air (turbulence) and generates more tornadoes. (We don't do those!) So based on risk analysis and a cost-benefit analysis, we just don't do it. We fly them right up until they make land fall, but we don't follow them over land.

Echo333 karma

minimum crew of five

What's the maximum crew? Got any pictures of the parts where the other folks sit? (Can't watch video at the moment, so I don't know if that's in your CNN link already). Even being a passenger in a plane flying though a hurricane must be unbelievably awesome.

JJRags7 karma

You can also check out for other pictures.

The pilots and Navigator sit up front.

The two weather experts sit in the cargo compartment at special removable computer stations. At one of those (the one for the Dropsonde Operator), there is also the "cannon" for shooting the dropsondes out of the bottom of the plane.

Claydough892 karma

I separated from the AF in Jan '16 (non-flyer (cataracts), I was a missileer) and am planning on starting a training program Jan '17. I have been looking at different possibilities in a flying career and this is new.

Couldnt watch the video at the moment so it may have been mentioned Are storm chaser pilots generally selected from the services or are there possibilities for non-military pilots?

JJRags6 karma

There are 12 planes in the world allowed to fly into thunderstorms/hurricanes. 10 of them are WC-130J aircraft flown entirely by crews in the USAF Reserves. The other 2 are P-3s flown by NOAA. I believe most of the NOAA pilots are former military.

stygarfield2 karma

What is your favorite airplane? That you have flown and not flown.

JJRags6 karma

My favorite plane is the Boeing-737. I've flown it in the military and in the airline business. It was my first "real" plane.

My favorite missions are those of the C-130. I love the crew and the type of flying we get to do.

MyMomSaysIAmCool2 karma

What do you when you're not flying through hurricanes?

I assume that you spend a lot of time training for the job. What does that entail?

JJRags5 karma

We stay busy all year long. Training mission look just like real missions, only without all the bumps. They are mostly for the weather experts. The pilots also need to borrow the plane regularly to maintain proficiency with landing and other pilot things.

We also fly winter storms. It is a much different looking mission, but we gather data from those too.

Finally, the planes can be used for cargo missions and aeromedical missions which transport patients.

crooked_neil2 karma

Thanks for offering to answer questions. You may not have the answer for this but, what is the maintenance schedule and how does it differ from a typical transport aircraft as far as the time investment? I would assume it would require a specialized team to make sure your plane is in the best possible shape.

JJRags2 karma

Actually, we stick to the regular maintenance schedule. We do try to fly them in such a way that prevents major scheduled maintenance during storm season. We need all 10 planes working then. Our maintainers are amazing! We have been flying quite a bit this season, and they are keeping us in the air.

LeonJones2 karma

did you fly something else for the military before becoming a hurricane hunter? Were you interested in meteorology before joining the hurricane hunters? Any formal education in meteorology? How many hours do you have? Plans for after you leave the military?

JJRags4 karma

I just picked the reserve unit closest to home. That's how I ended up here. However, some of our pilots had a prior interest in the weather. The pilots don't require any weather training. We aren't nearly as smart as the meteorologists. :-)

I have almost 10,000 hours including my civilian time. After I leave the military, I will enjoy retirement!

arch_nyc2 karma

Don't know if you'll be able to answer but do you or others do anything similar for thunderstorms?

JJRags6 karma

All airplanes are prohibited by aviation rules to get close to thunderstorms. In most situations, you have to stay 10-20 miles away depending on your altitude. Our 10 and NOAA's 2 planes operate on waivers that allow us to go into thunderstorms. No one else can, so there isn't a mission to gather information from other thunderstorms.

fsu_ppg2 karma

As someone who's actually in process of applying to the Reserves, and am actually looking at the 53rd, what would you say is the best part of your mission? What do you all do when it's not storm season?

JJRags4 karma

Lots to do in the "off" season. Training, cargo missions, winter storm missions, etc.

The best part is spending time with these people. We fly out of great locations too. Quite frankly, the flying isn't that challenging or exciting (except in actual hurricanes), so I like the flying better in our other unit, the 815th AS Flying Jennies. Not everyone gets to fly for both though.

Xavi7872 karma

Have you ever had to go to the bathroom while flying a long mission? What's the procedure?

JJRags6 karma

Our missions can last as long as 14 hours, so yes, we have to eat and relieve ourselves. We have the equivalent of a porta-potty which is part of the equipment in the back. It has a curtain instead of walls, but it is sufficient. You try to wait until the radar is predicting a smooth enough ride for a few minutes.

binkling42 karma

Are there any opportunities for a naval aviator to get into hurricane hunting? I understand you fly through the Air Force, but does NOAA or NASA fly any separate missions that a naval aviator could pick up?

JJRags6 karma

We are active USAF Reservists. We have WC-130s planes. We have several pilots that have come from other services. We have former Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard. But they become USAF.

NOAA has 2 P-3s that also fly into hurricanes. I think many of their pilots are former navy aviators.

JJRags2 karma

There was/is not nearly enough information available to properly determine the cause of that mishap. Might have had nothing to do with the storm. I think today's crews are confident in our safety practices and equipment. The callsign of that aircraft in 1974 was Swan38. We fundraise for a college scholarship given each year in their honor.

Fytt2 karma

What type of uplink does the plane use to send data back to NOAA?

JJRags2 karma

A secure satellite uplink for 2-way text only. We also have a satellite phone if we need it.

djmaciii1 karma

Does it ever make you nervous flying when you are a passenger?

JJRags3 karma

No, but I always prefer to be the pilot.

rcc7371 karma

Assuming you fly commercially at least once in awhile do you ever tell the flight attendants or pilots that you're a trained pilot? I've often wondered if there are qualified pilots sitting in the passenger area and if so does the airline or flight crew know.

JJRags2 karma

I don't usually tell anyone. If I were ever to see any excitement, I might let them know. Being trained in a C-130 doesn't necessarily mean that I would have an easy time with a commercial airliner, but I would be happy to help if needed.

superphily21 karma

Hey, I live near Florida's east coast and I was curious if you know why nearly all day Thursday I think last week the noaa projected Matthew to hit the middle of the state's East coast and then it finally didn't show in the 1am update, Friday if I remember correctly, and in the final path when the eye moved along the ocean towards the Carolinas.

Also I saw a video online with a segment about those who fly into hurricanes to gather data about possible hurricanes, think it was nova for their Katrina documentary. Is it not extremely dangerous to fly a large plane into a big windy storm with extreme turbulence? I imagine there are ways to fly safely but it just seems sooooooooo dangerous.

JJRags3 karma

Predicting the future of a weather system is very difficult. That's why we don't mind providing the data. It helps them predict more accurately. We don't do predicting ourselves though. We just supply the data and let the meteorologists at the NHC do the predicting.

Yes there are ways to mitigate the dangers. If it was dangerous, my wife wouldn't let me do it! :-) We know what speed to fly, what radar returns to avoid, what altitudes are best, how to correct after turbulence disrupts our path, etc. We take safety seriously and prepare well for these missions.

MuddyGrimes1 karma

What else have you done in your air force career besides flying with the hurricane hunters? How did you get selected for the hurricane hunters? Are you a full time reservist, or do you have another job outside of the air force?

JJRags3 karma

I was active-duty first. I was an instructor on the T-43 (B-737-200) and an instructor on the T-38 (twin-jet trainer) before moving to the reserves and the C-130. I used to be an airline pilot (Continental Airlines), but gave that up for a full-time reserve job.

gimp2x1 karma

Are there any reinforcements done to the airframe to mitigate the effects of hail? I have read of T-28's and even proposed A-10 weather reconnaissance missions both of which having reinforced skins for hail protection- does the WC-130J or P3 have any such alterations?

JJRags1 karma

I'm not aware of any skin reinforcements on the C-130 or P-3. We try not to stay in heavy hail when encountered.

k00skay1 karma

As someone who's interested in joining the Air Force reserves and hoping to become a pilot if I do, preferably near me (Louisiana), how do I prepare and have the best chance of successfully making that happen? I have my bachelor's degree and thus would join as an officer as I know that is required. Also how does piloting for the reserves work? From my understanding when you work for the reserves, you go in one weekend a month and two weeks every summer. Are those the only times you fly? Thanks!

JJRags4 karma

The best thing to do is contact a Reserve recruiter and, if able, get in touch with an actual unit that interests you. Selection boards are held at least twice a year to pick the people that the reserves will make officers and send to pilot training. It is fairly competitive. Most have some flight time. Your recruiter can help you with that. Of course, you must pass a flight physical as well. Again, talk to a recruiter.

Flight crew members are unable to maintain proficiency with just 1 weekend a month and 2 weeks in the summer, so we are provided extra paid opportunities to fly. I recommending living near your unit and making yourself available to help them while also maintaining your proficiency.

threeninetysix1 karma

Are the aircraft you fly in strengthened or outfitted any differently than other aircraft of the same type?

Do you see a role for any of the soon to be retired A-10s?

JJRags4 karma

The WC-130J is not structurally strengthened at all. It is configured slightly differently with addition weather sensing equipment and a Navigator panel on the flight deck. We also add two removable pallets (computer equipped desks) in the back for the weather experts. It can be converted back to the normal combat role if needed.

No, I don't think that a single-seat jet aircraft has a role in hurricanes. Jets don't like that much water for one.

7akata1 karma

Best Q3 story, and what beer am I bringing when you don't hook me?

JJRags1 karma

Thankfully, most pilots are very prepared for their job and their periodic check rides, so I'm happy to report that I don't have any Q3 stories worth telling. So if you bring your A-game, you won't need anything more.

fuxjdks1 karma

There was a weather report a few weeks ago that showed a flock of birds stuck in the eye of a tropical storm. (too lazy to find the link now) Are you guys on high alert for BASH or is that too uncommon? Thanks for doing this, btw!

JJRags1 karma

We are always alert for possible threats. It is not common that we see birds in the eye, but I have seen (and hit) them before.

__Iniquity__1 karma

What do you think of Army Rangers? I didn't have a better question, sorry.

JJRags1 karma

They are amazing heroes and I'm glad they are on our team. I've gotten to airdrop them before.

Ghraysone1 karma

My dad was aircrew on a P-3 in the Navy, and was wondering, what is the major difference in using the C-130 compared to the P-3?

JJRags1 karma

They are very similar. The USAF already flies C-130s, so it probably just made more sense to use a plane with an already established infrastructure in the USAF.

__Iniquity__1 karma

How much turbulence can a typical plane take before things get dangerous?

JJRags1 karma

Each situation and plane is different. Advance indications that turbulence is ahead greatly enhances a crew's ability to avoid or prepare for turbulence. Each aircraft also has a turbulence penetration airspeed to help prevent damage.

__Iniquity__1 karma

For a typical plane though... What"level" of turbulence can it take?

JJRags2 karma

Sorry. There just isn't really a good way to answer that. If a plane is being flown at its rough air penetration airspeed, it will in theory stall before breaking something. Stalls and a lack of seeing the instruments create their own problems unique to each aircraft and situation. Levels of turbulence are also different depending on the size and characteristics of the plane. "Moderate turbulence" in a small Cessna will not be interpreted that way in a Boeing jetliner.

__Iniquity__1 karma

That works. What's the worst turbulence you have experienced?

JJRags1 karma

I have experienced brief moments of severe turbulence. In those moments, the instruments are shaking too much to read them. We're just trying to keep the shiny side up until we get past it and can make corrections.

JJRags1 karma

We have a full-time Public Affairs office. Try looking at There might be better pictures there. The truth is that we are pretty busy at those Kodak moments. And we are reluctant to add unnecessary crew members.

JJRags1 karma

Not during a hurricane mission. I am confident in our crews, aircraft, maintainers, and safety practices. There ARE times when I'm uncomfortable and ready to find smoother air and/or less lightning.

JJRags1 karma

At the right speed (different for each plane), all planes can handle all turbulence from a purely structural perspective. There are other issues with turbulence too, so all of us would rather avoid it.

Cornhole351 karma

So when you catch a hurricane do you release back into the wild?

JJRags1 karma

I wish we could catch them and turn them!

JJRags1 karma

They are amazing heroes! I get to airdrop them occasionally with our other C-130 unit. It is a privilege to work with them.

JJRags1 karma

An encrypted satellite network.

FanOfGoodMovies1 karma

Is the WC-130J the best plane for the job or is its successor being designed now?

JJRags2 karma

I'm unaware of a successor being developed. The WC-130J is very well suited for the job! These new J-model aircraft have only been used full-time in storms since 2005.

rushmid1 karma

Are the Hurricane Hunters still out of Biloxi?

JJRags1 karma

Yes. Keesler AFB, MS 403d Wing


What would be required in you opinion to take a stock aircraft and fly it in these sort of conditions safely? Suppose not a 130 but a regular multi turboprop

JJRags2 karma

I would not recommend it at all.


Lol! Is that much done with the 130 to make it better suited?

JJRags1 karma

Not really, but the training and our procedures keep us safe. Just wouldn't want to encourage anyone else to try it. I'm guessing our crews could take a different turboprop as long as it wasn't too small.

Hoosagoodboy1 karma

Little late, but hopefully you get to see this...

How clean does the aircraft get after essentially going through an extreme power wash after flying through the storm?

JJRags1 karma

Interestingly enough, we also taxi our aircraft through what we call the "bird bath" after a day of flying. It is a high-pressure fresh water rinse facility built into our taxiway. The planes also get a thorough cleaning every 30 days or so. So, as you can see, we take good care of them.

SonicCharmeleon1 karma

Has anyone ever gone down in a storm, or had a close call?

JJRags2 karma

We have only lost one C-130 on a storm mission. It was in 1974 and the mishap investigation was inconclusive, so we have no idea if the mishap was storm related. These days, we remain in constant contact with the NHC and our home base, so we can tell someone if we experience a problem. That was not the case back then, so we just don't know. Their call sign was Swan 38. We fund raise for an annual scholarship given in their honor.

whyyomamasofly1 karma

Is the earth flat?

JJRags1 karma


throwawaythatbrother1 karma

Any advice for somebody who would love to join the Air Force in order to fly? What are the dos and do nots?

JJRags2 karma

Talk to a recruiter for sure. They are good at explaining the process. I also encourage getting as much information as possible from others doing what you want to do. Make an informed decision and then be ready to work hard for the opportunity. Flying is fun! Never lose that. To be a pilot, you must be an officer which requires a college degree. So... depending on your age, I would tell you to work hard at school.

nixity1 karma

I'm probably too late, and there's probably already been someone who has asked, but do you have any incredible pictures you can share that you've taken while doing any of these flights?

JJRags1 karma

Check out They have some.

Zeus13251 karma

What are some fun stories you have from your flying experience other than just the Hurricane ones?

Side-note: Check out r/flying.

JJRags1 karma

I can share a recent funny aspect of the job. On two recent storm flights, as we near the eye wall, someone on the crew yelled out "Leeeerrrroooy Jennnnnkins!" It gets a good laugh and then we put our game faces back on. I just recently became aware of the Leroy Jenkins reference because of a popular hurricane meme.

Mfd281 karma

What is the typical winds that you fly into? I assume directly into? How about a typical ground speed? Ever have a unexpected wind shift that could cause a stall?

JJRags2 karma

The airplane is designed to travel at 350 mph. We slow it down to about 200 mph to remain at a speed that prevents damage from turbulence. we always have a crosswind from the left while we head toward the eye and a crosswind from the right as we head out of the eye. The wind shifts are drastic at times, but not so fast that they cause us to approach a stall.

LordRottingham1 karma

Do you get vectors to the eye or so you use gps? Do you notice the storm messing with your navaids?

JJRags2 karma

We start in the direction indicated by satellite images. Then, as we get close, we use the radar, pressure changes, and wind direction to keep headed to the eye.

LordRottingham1 karma

What's the lowest QNH you've seen?

JJRags2 karma

26.72 in Hurricane Dean (2007)

guadaluperick1 karma

Just wanted to say how badass your profession sounds. Do navigators also go to piloting school?

JJRags2 karma

Navigators have their own professional flight school. It teaches some of the same skills along with other unique skills. This mission relies on them heavily for their radar expertise.