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Hurricane Hunter History

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The first flight into the eye of a hurricane was made 70 years ago today, on 27 June 1943, by flight instructor Joe Duckworth from Bryan Air Field in south central Texas (near the current site of Texas A & M) . Colonel Duckworth was in the process of helping to standardize the instruction of instument flying in the Air Corps. Egged on by British pilots training at Bryan Field, Duckworth flew a single-engine AT-6 trainer into the small hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico near Galveston, Texas.

Without weather radar or satellites to rely on, the hurricane was first detected  only a day prior to Duckworth’s flight. Ship and weather reports were subject to censorship, delaying crucial public warnings. The storm, dubbed the 1943 Surprise Hurricane, was responsible for nineteen deaths. It also destroyed two important oil refineries in Texas.

Weather prediction, charts and climate studies are critical intelligence components when planning strategic military movements. Duckworth’s flight in 1943 showed that hurricane reconnaisance flights were feasible. In 1944, the 3rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron was activated, tracking weather in the North Atlantic between North America and Europe. The squadron was redesignated the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron in 1945, and the term “Hurricane Hunters” first used in 1946. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is still active; based at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, they train and organize aerial weather reconnaissance activities and according to the Hurricane Hunters Association, they are “the only Department of Defense organization still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes.”

The Museum’s collection includes papers of legendary New Orleans meteorolgist Nash Roberts, Jr., who served in 1945 as navigator and meteorologist aboard Admiral Chester Nimitz’s aircraft carrier, from which he would become the first meteorologist to fly into the eye of a typhoon and chart its course.

Post by Curator Kimberly Guise.

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