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 have operated 51 WC-130s: Three A-models; 17 B-models; six E‑models, 15 H‑models, and ten new J‑models.
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 sampling, rain-making, 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, over the murky jungles of Southeast Asia, and through blinding 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.
The First B-Models
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3702 62-3492 Sold to Pakistan ca. 1985; still flying 2015
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; now for sale in Abu Dhabi
3722 62-3496 Sold to Turkey, Aug 1992; still flying as of 2015
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, the mission simply did not warrant the procurement of brand new aircraft.
After a grueling and deadly six years 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 in October and December of 1962, and were immediately put to work flying daily reconnaissance tracks over the Pacific. After a brief period of OT&E, they were dispersed across the Pacific, one each to the 54th, 56th, and 57th WRS’, with the 55th keeping two, one at McClellan, the other at Eielson.
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 in the WC-130 without 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 further 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 light 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.
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3659 61-2360 Scrapped, Sept ‘01, Tucson, AZ
3688 61-2365 Still For Sale at Snow Aviation, Columbus, Ohio
3706 61-2366 Scrapped at Tucson, ca. 2010
4047 64-0552 Sold to Belgium, 2008, still flying 2016
4048 64-0553 Scrapped Apr ‘01
4049 64-0554 Scrapped 2010 at Tucson
Having proven the worth of the C-130 as a sampling and reconnaissance platform, AWS asked for and received 6 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 re-connaissance2 at WRAMA. All six were delivered to AWS in 1965, and trans-ferred 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 sys-tem, 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, and 55th 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.
Great shot of -0554 [Grant Matsuoka photo]
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 Reconnaissance “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 is still sitting idle (missing a prop) and for sale at Snow Aviation in Columbus, Ohio (last I heard, they’ll sell it to ya for $10-million). ‑0552 was sold to Belgium in 2008 and is flying with the Belgian Air Force, wearing the designation CH-14 (Once in a while a picture of her pops up on Facebook). -2360 and ‑0553 were scrapped in 2001, and -2366 and -0554 were both scrapped ca. 2010. -0554 was subjected to the indignity of ABDR training for several years, which means she was shot full of holes so troops could learn how to fix ‘em. She deserved a better end.
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now?
3127 56-0519 Last seen at Tan Son Nhut in 1999, a derelict
3130 56-0522 Scrapped ca. 2007
3145 56-0537 Scrapped ca. 2008
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.
56-0522 at Andersen, 1970 (TCR photo
The A-models were modified for weather reconnaissance, probably at WRAMA, with the Landers, Frary, & Clark AN/AMR‑1 Radiosonde Receptor 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 as required for normal weather reconnaissance activities from Guam.
(I flew my first penetration into Typhoon Patsy aboard 56-0522, on 14 Nov 1970. We did not know at the time that Patsy would have an influence on the Son Tay POW rescue mission a week later).
In late 1970/early 1971, 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 As 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 permanent 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. I suspect she’s a pile of rust by now. 56-0522 finished out her life as a trash hauler and later a ground trainer at Kelly AFB. She was scrapped in 2007. 56-0537 hauled trash with the ANG until 1989. Records then show she was owned by Roy D. Reagan, President Reagan’s brother. In 1991 it was sold or leased and sold again to a variety of firms until being scrapped in 2008.
The "New-Old" B-Models
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
3520 58-0725 Sold to the Philippine Air Force, 1995; retired 1996
3521 58-0726 Sold to the Colombian Air Force, 1992; still active 2016
3524 58-0729 Scrapped May 2002
3526 58-0731 Sold to the South African Air Force, Oct 1997; still active 2016
3528 58-0733 Sold to the Ecuadorian Air Force 1992, retired 1999
3530 58-0734 Sold to the South African Air Force, Jan 1998; active 2016
3537 58-0740 Destroyed at Homestead AFB by Hurricane Andrew6
3538 58-0741 Sold to the Argentinean Air Force ca 1992; derelict 2002
3539 58-0742 Sold to Botswana, 1999; still active 2016
3545 58-0747 Sold to the Philippine Air Force Sep 1997; retired 2003
3551 58-0752 Sold to the Chilean Air force ca 1992; scrapped 2008
3559 58-0758 Sold to Bolivia 1994; crashed 2000
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”.
58-0747 at Hickam, 1971 (TCR photo)
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.3 None of them were configured for atmospheric sampling.
58-0731, a.k.a. NOAA’s Ark [NOAA photo]
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, where she still serves.
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 three of its 1962 B‑models to the 55th in 1970. After receiving the eight 1958 B‑models, the 53rd gave up the other two 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, ‑0725 received 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‑130s search radar has been upgraded over the years, however, and is apparently sufficient for the weather mission.
58-0725 with side-looking radar (A.I.R. photo)
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. 58-0729 was scrapped in 2002. 58-0740 was severely damaged at Homestead AFB during Hurricane Andrew in 1992, but the fuselage was salvaged for use as a loading trainer. 58-0758 was sold to the Bolivian Air Force in 1994, and crashed on takeoff from Chimorre in 2000.
58-0729, preparing to evacuate Guam in the face of Typhoon Amy, 3 May 1971 [TCR photo]
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where is it now? _____
4088 64-14861 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4099 64-14866 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4103 65-0963 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4104 65-0964 Retired to Davis Monthan
4106 65-0965 Disappeared in the South China Sea, 12Oct74 7
4107 65-0966 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4108 65-0967 was to be converted to EC-130H; now in limbo
4110 65-0968 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4111 65-0969 CFB Trenton, Ontario; ground trainer, ca. Aug 2000
4120 65-0972 Scrapped 2005, cockpit to MN ANG
4126 65-0976 Retired to AMARC, January 2016
4127 65-0977 Transferred to NASA, 2016
4132 65-0980 GA ANG; maybe to Puerto Rico
4139 65-0984 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
4140 65-0985 Transferred to Puerto Rican ANG, 2016
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-models 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. Initially they all retained the dorsal radome of the Rescue type, though that vestige disappeared as the years went by. All still retain the angular nose radome that was unique to the rescue variant.
65-0980 taking off from Keesler [USAF Photo]
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 modified and upgraded versions of 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). Latest updates to this system now utilize lightweight digital radiosondes and GPS for positioning and windfinding.
Color schemes on the H-model varied over the years. The standard light gray with full color markings was the norm. Most had the dorsal radome painted white, though some have been seen with a black dorsal 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.
Lockheed C/N USAF S/N Where Is It Now?
5451 96-5300 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5452 96-5301 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5453 96-5302 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5473 97-5303 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5474 97-5304 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5475 97-5305 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5476 97-5306 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5486 98-5307 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5487 98-5308 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
5501 99-5309 Active, 53rd WRS, Keesler AFB
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 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”. After a couple years of “teething” problems with the J, the 53rd has fully vetted them now, and the ten are operating all over the world in support of U.S and international weather reconnaissance and research.
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”.
There was a rumor going about in 2012 that India had requested a proposal from Lockheed for two WC-130Js, but I’ve not heard anything about that since then.
99-5309, the last of ten WC-130Js delivered (USAF photo)
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there had been 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, Snoopy was honorably retired by the RAF in April of 2001.
Abbreviations and acronyms
ABDR....... Aircraft Battle Damage Repair
AFB............ Air Force Base
AFRC........ Air Force Reserve Command
AFRES...... Air Force Reserves
AFSOC….Air Force Special Operation Command
AFTAC..... Air Force Technical Application Center
AMARC... Aircraft Maintenance and
..................... Regeneration Center (D-M AFB)
ANG......... Air National Guard
ARRS......... Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Service
ARWO...... Aerial Reconnaissance Weather Officer
AS............... Airlift Squadron
AVAPS..... Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System
AWRS....... Advanced Weather Reconnaissance System
AWS........... Air Weather Service
C/N........... Constructor’s Number
DOD......... Department of Defense
IWRS......... Improved Weather Reconnaissance System
MAC............ Military Airlift Command
NCAR......... National Center for Atmospheric Research
NOAA........ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
PACAF....... Pacific Air Forces (of USAF)
RAF.............. Royal Air Force
RQS............. Rescue Squadron (the ‘Q’ is silent)
RTAFB........ Royal Thai Air Force Base
SEA.............. Southeast Asia
TAC............. Tactical Air Command
TAS.............. Tactical Airlift Squadron
TAW............ Tactical Airlift Wing
USAF........... United States Air Force
WRALC...... Warner-Robins Air Logistics Center
WRAMA.... Warner-Robins Air Materiel Area
WRS............. Weather Reconnaissance Squadron
WRW........... Weather Reconnaissance Wing
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. When the inlet door was opened, the paper filters captured particulate matter in the air as the airstream passed through the foil.
Photo by TCR
• 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 (FS245). 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 reconnais-sance 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 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 data by voice to ground stations.
Photo by TCR
3) The Project “Seek Cloud” modification included the following equipment:
• The AN/AMQ-29 Dropsonde Data Record-ing 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; (far right, covered)
Photo by TCR
• The AN/AMQ-31 Dropsonde Dispenser, designed around the existing AN/AMT-13 Radiosonde
After the ‘sonde is loaded as shown, the upper half of the tube is lowered and locked, compressing the spring against the top of the ‘sonde. The push of a button opens the trap door and the ‘sonde is on its way.
Photo by TCR
• The AN/AMQ-34 Cambridge Optical Dewpoint Hygrometer;
• Barnes Engineering PRT-5 Infrared Sea-Surface Temperature
• 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.
Photo by TCR
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 Recon-naissance System (AWRS, later designated the AN/AMQ‑32). After a cost over-run 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.)
AWRS - USAF Photo
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 rain-making effort in Southeast Asia is 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. There are some brief articles and discussions on the internet, but precious little else has ever been seen about this intriguing and controversial operation. Lots of people know about it, but no one is talking, even now, 44 years later.
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 on Guam 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 in the South China Sea. The last radio contact was at about 10 p.m., 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 is now on display at Kirtland AFB, NM).
The crew members, carried on AWS rolls as Killed In Action, were:
Capt Edward R. Bushnell 1Lt Gary W. Crass 1Lt Michael P. O’Brien
1Lt Timothy J. Hoffman Tsgt Kenneth G. Suhr Sgt Detlef W. Ringler
They are the only crewmembers to be lost in 50 years of tropical storm reconnaissance with the C-130.
May they rest in Peace.
8) As stated earlier, the IWRS resulted from the aborted AWRS. The system consisted of three major 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.
Photo by TCR
• 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 comprised the “vertical” part of the system;
• SATCOM, the Satellite Communication system, provides a rapid means of communicating critical weather data to the National Hurricane Center or other ground stations in real time.
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 compart-ment, just aft of the forward bulkhead (FS245), with the dropsonde pallet facing forward and the ARWO pallet facing aft. The dropsonde dispenser has also been moved to a central location just aft of the dropsonde console. The pallets and dispenser can easily be removed to make room for normal cargo transportation, if the need arises.
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 disrupt-tions to USAF mission scheduling.
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.
Photo by TCR
The ice crusher was a massive, roaring, clattering monster that literally hammered 10-pound blocks of dry ice into powder...
Photo by TCR
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. Here, dropsonde operator Jeffrey Proulx demonstrates the loading process...
Photo by TCR
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, so I’m told, have been quite as dramatically successful.
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."
Sources For Whiskey-Charlie
• This work would not have been possible without Lars Olausson’s Lockheed Hercules Production List,
which Lars published every year for about 30 years, and Bob Daley’s current similar effort, published
and updated a couple times a year on the internet.
• 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;
• USAF Aerial Reconnaissance Using the Lockheed WC-130 Aircraft, by Capt. Rodney Henderson,
Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, September 1978;
• The Hurricane Hunters, Gary Frey, Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, Spring 1980;
• 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;
• The Weather War, Craig Stevaux, Vietnam Magazine, December 1997;
• World Airpower Journal, Volumes 6, 7, 8, and 18;
• 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, former AWS Historians;
• Correspondence with Jerry White of the Air Force Weather Agency Office of History;
• Corrections and updates from various e-mail correspondents on the C-130 Internet Mailing List,
particularly Bob Daley;
• Various internet web sites, particularly NCAR’s site at
• And of course, where would I be without the assistance of Bernie Barris, the esteemed Historian and
current Chairman of the Board of the Air Weather Reconnaissance Association, and the AWRA website at http://www.awra.us/
• And last but not least, Denny, Ski, George and Joe. Thanks, buddies.
Publications About The C-130
And Weather Reconnaissance
Bates, Charles C. and Fuller, John F., America’s Weather Warriors, 1814-1985, Texas A&M University
Caidin, Martin, The Long Arm Of America, Dutton, 1963.
Caidin, Martin, The Mighty Hercules, Dutton, 1964.
Dabney, Joe, Herk: Hero Of The Skies, Copple House, 1979.
Davis, Larry, Gunships, A Pictorial History of Spooky, Squadron/Signal, 1982.
Drendel, Lou, The C-130 Hercules In Action, Squadron/Signal, 1981.
Fuller, John F., Thor's Legions: Weather Support to the U.S. Air Force and Army, 1937-1987,
American Meteorological Society, 1990.
Leader, Ray, Colors and Markings of the C-130 Hercules, Volume 7, Special Purpose Aircraft,
Tab Books, 1987.
Lloyd, Alwin T., B-29 Superfortress in Detail and Scale, Part 2, Derivatives, Tab Books, 1987.
Markus, Rita, Nicholas Halbeisen and John F. Fuller, Air Weather Service: Our Heritage, 1937-
1987, Military Airlift Command, 1987.
Mason, Francis K., Lockheed Hercules, Stephens, 1984.
McGowan, Sam, C-130 Hercules Tactical Airlift Missions, 1956-1975; Aero Publishers, 1988;
Morris, Marion E., C-130: The Hercules, Presidio, 1989.
Olausson, Lars, Lockheed Hercules Production List, privately published every year.
Peacock, Lindsay, The Mighty Hercules; The First Four Decades, RAF Benevolent Fund, 1994.
Peeters, Willy, Lock-On #3, C-130H, AC-130E, Verlinden Publications.
Reed, Arthur, Modern Combat Aircraft #17: The C-130 Hercules, Ian Allen Ltd., 1984.
Spencer, Otha C., Flying the Weather, The History of Air Weather Reconnaissance, The Country
Tannehill, Ivan, The Hurricane Hunters, 1955 [novel].
World Airpower Journal
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 1, René Francillon, Vol. 6, Summer 1991.
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 2, René Francillon, Vol. 7, Autumn/Winter 1991.
—C-130 Hercules Variant Briefing, Part 3, René Francillon, Vol. 8, Spring 1992.
—Lockheed C-130 Hercules, B. Archer & R. Hewson, Vol. 18, Fall 1994.
—USAF Special Operations Command, Randy Jolly, Vol. 23, Winter 1995.
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.
—Compass Call to Dominate Electronic, Info Warfare, 18 Oct 1999, p. 50.
—EC-130s Continue Upgrades for 21st Century Combat, 18 Oct 1999, p. 54.
The Hurricane Hunters; Frey, Gary. Journal of the American Aviation Historical Society, Spring 1980.
USAF Aerial Weather Reconnaissance Using the Lockheed WC-130 Aircraft; Capt. Rodney Henderson.
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.
The Air Weather Reconnaissance Association ~ http://www.awra.us
The 53rd WRS Hurricane Hunters ~ http://www.hurricanehunters.com
Joey Tabaco’s Links Page ~ http://www.tabacofamily.com/jtabaco/jtlinks.asp
Hercules Headquarters - http://www.c-130hercules.net/content.php
The National Hurricane Center ~ http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/reconlist.shtml
The National Center for Atmospheric Research ~ http://www.eol.ucar.edu/
A Hurricane Hunter’s Photo Album ~ Scott Dommin ~ http://www.pbase.com/sdommin/hurricanes
Hunting Hugo, by Dr. Jeffrey M. Masters, 1999; http://www.wunderground.com/hurricane/hugo1.asp
Cold Fronts - Col. Jack Sharp ~ http://www.awra.us/coldfronts/ColdFronts.html
Lockheed WC-130 ~ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_WC-130
Just go online and search for “WC-130” or “Popeye” or “fog seeding” or “atmospheric sampling", etc, and you will find a host of information. Most of it is true.
“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