WC-130 Hercules: Aircraft profile

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The WC-130 Hercules is a high-wing, medium-range aircraft flown by the Air Force Reserve Command for weather reconnaissance missions.

WC-130 Hercules: An air-to-air left front view of a WC-130 Hercules aircraft from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron on a mission to monitor and relay vital information on a typhoon to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).WC-130 Hercules: An air-to-air left front view of a WC-130 Hercules aircraft from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron on a mission to monitor and relay vital information on a typhoon to the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC).

Features

The WC-130H is capable of staying aloft nearly 15 hours during missions. It is equipped with two external 1,400 gallon (5,320-liter) fuel tanks, an internal 1,800 gallon (6,480 liter) fuel tank, and has uprated engines. An average weather reconnaissance mission might last 11 hours and cover almost 3,500 miles while the crew collects and reports weather data every minute.

Weather equipment aboard the aircraft include the Improved Weather Reconnaissance System. This system consists of the Atmospheric Distributed Data System and Omega Dropsonde Windfinding System.

The ADDS system provides a high-density, high-accuracy horizontal atmospheric sensing capability. Sensors installed on the aircraft measure per second outside temperature, humidity, absolute altitude of the aircraft, pressure altitude, wind speed and direction. This information, along with an evaluation of other meteorological conditions, turbulence, icing, radar returns and visibility, is encoded by the onboard meteorologist and transmitted by satellite to the National Weather Services' National Hurricane Center in Miami, Fla.

WC-130 Hercules: The WC-130J Hercules features a cockpit packed with the latest in computer assisted flight and navigational controls used to "chase" hurricanes. These systems enhance the situational awareness of crews and allow them to focus on their in-flight tasks. The WC-130J is flown by aircrews from the Air Force Reserve Command's 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The 403rd is the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service. (U.S. Air Force file photo)WC-130 Hercules: The WC-130J Hercules features a cockpit packed with the latest in computer assisted flight and navigational controls used to "chase" hurricanes. These systems enhance the situational awareness of crews and allow them to focus on their in-flight tasks. The WC-130J is flown by aircrews from the Air Force Reserve Command's 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The 403rd is the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service. (U.S. Air Force file photo)

The ODWS system measures the atmosphere vertically by using an expendable instrument which is dropped from the aircraft. The 16 inch-long cylinder is dropped every 400 miles while on a weather track and in the center or hurricane eye. A vertical atmospheric profile of pressure, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, wind speed and direction is received from the dropsonde as it descends to the ocean surface. The dropsonde is slowed and stabilized by a small parachute. From this information, the dropsonde system operator analyzes and encodes data for satellite transmission to the National Hurricane Center.

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

Background

The WC-130H Hercules is a modified version of the C-130 transport configured with computerized weather instrumentation for penetration of severe storms to obtain data on storm movements, dimensions and intensity. The WC-130B became operational in 1959, the E model in 1962, followed by the H model in 1964. Only the H model is currently in operation. The WC-130J, currently in testing, is scheduled to replace the WC-130H.

The WC-130 provides vital tropical cyclone forecasting information. It penetrates tropical cyclones and hurricanes at altitudes ranging from 500 to 10,000 feet (151.7 to 3,033.3 meters) 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.

WC-130 Hercules: An air-to-air left front view of a WC-130H Hercules aircraft in flight over Florida.WC-130 Hercules: An air-to-air left front view of a WC-130H Hercules aircraft in flight over Florida.

General Characteristics

Primary Function: Weather reconnaissance
Contractor: Lockheed Aircraft Corp.
Power Plant: Four Allison turboprop engines; T-56-A-15
Length: 99 feet, 4 inches (30.10 meters)
Height: 38 feet, 6 inches (11.67 meters)
Maximum Takeoff Weight: 155,000 pounds (69,750 kilograms)
Wingspan: 132 feet, 6 inches (40.15 meters)
Range: 4,000 miles (3,478 nautical miles)
Ceiling: 33,000 feet (10,000 meters)
Endurance: Can stay aloft 15 hours at 300-plus mph
Speed: 350-plus mph (Mach 0.46; 304 knots per hour)
Crew: Six; pilot, co-pilot, navigator, flight engineer, aerial reconnaissance weather officer and dropsonde system operator
Date Deployed: 1964
Unit Cost: Approximately $13 million (1960 dollars)
Inventory: Active force; 0; ANG, 0; Reserve, 10

Source: USAF

WC-130 Hercules: Major Chuck Colman, right, WC-130 Hercules aircraft commander, offers retired Lieutenant Colonel O'Hair a co-pilot's view of hurricane hunting in the 1980s. O'Hair was a member of the first aircrew to penetrate a hurricane four decades ago. Airman Magazine-December 1984.WC-130 Hercules: Major Chuck Colman, right, WC-130 Hercules aircraft commander, offers retired Lieutenant Colonel O'Hair a co-pilot's view of hurricane hunting in the 1980s. O'Hair was a member of the first aircrew to penetrate a hurricane four decades ago. Airman Magazine-December 1984.

Detailed background:

Source: wikipedia.org

The Lockheed WC-130 Hercules is a high-wing, medium-range aircraft used in weather reconnaissance missions. This plane is a 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.

Operational history

The WC-130B model was operational with the former Military Airlift Command's Air Weather Service from 1962 to 1979, the E model from 1965 to 1993, followed by the H 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. Only the J model, introduced in 1999, is currently in operation as of 2006 with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, now part of the 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserve Command.

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 3,000 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.

WC-130J

The aircraft is capable of staying aloft almost 18 hours at an optimum cruise speed of more than 300 miles per hour. An average weather reconnaissance mission lasts 11 hours and covers almost 3,500 miles. The crew collects and reports weather data as often as every minute.

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 53rd WRS , an Air Force Reserve Command unit assigned to the 403rd Wing at Keesler AFB, 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.

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.

WC-130 Hercules: Four drop wind sondes are calibrated in an "incubator" aboard a WC-130H Hercules aircraft before being dropped into Hurricane Gilbert to relay information on wind speed, dew point and barometric pressure back to the aircraft. The aircraft from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is flying into the storm to gather meteorological data.WC-130 Hercules: Four drop wind sondes are calibrated in an "incubator" aboard a WC-130H Hercules aircraft before being dropped into Hurricane Gilbert to relay information on wind speed, dew point and barometric pressure back to the aircraft. The aircraft from the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is flying into the storm to gather meteorological data.

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 long and 3.5 inches in diameter and weighs approximately 2.5 pounds. The dropsonde is equipped with a high frequency radio and other sensing devices and is released from the aircraft about every 400 miles 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. The Dropsonde System Operator receives, analyzes and encodes the data for transmission by satellite.

Beginning in May 2007, the WC-130J will be equipped with the Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer, which continuously measures the surface winds and rainfall rates below the aircraft.

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

More photos: WC-130 Hercules photo gallery

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