WC-130J team tracks hurricanes with improved radar system

  • Published
  • By Capt. Catie Hague
  • 95th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Experts here battled 155-mph winds and penetrated two hurricanes 15 times recently to put the WC-130J Hercules’ improved weather-radar system to the test.

Together with Air Force Reserve Command's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., joint test team experts flew multiple times into hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne to test the aircraft’s weather-radar system. It is designed to take weather avoidance software to the next level -- weather reconnaissance, said Mark Miller, 418th Flight Test Squadron project engineer.

The WC-130J is a special weather reconnaissance version of the new C-130J Hercules cargo plane. People of the 53rd WRS fly it into the eye of hurricanes to retrieve critical information about active storms.

The tests were part of the final development phase planned for the WC-130J weather-radar conversion and validated work done in June to fine-tune the radar and prepare for hurricane penetration missions, Mr. Miller said.

"Currently, the C-130J's weather radar can't penetrate the high-density rain fields characteristic of hurricane conditions," said Maj. Clifton Janney, 418th FLTS project pilot and WC-130J flight commander. "This weather avoidance radar operates outside the hurricane and looks in."

With the new software modification, the low-powered reconnaissance radar can investigate the storm from within, collecting data on the winds and direction of the hurricane, and provide real-time information to the National Hurricane Center in Miami, Mr. Miller said.

"Flying through the storm, the reconnaissance weather officer gives direction to the pilot based on the winds he's seeing on radar," Major Janney said. "What he's trying to do is fix the center position of the hurricane where there's no wind or very light wind. This is called a fix mission; we fly through the eye to fix the center of the hurricane."

He said the radar is used to find the eye and fine-tune that position based on the winds. This fixed position is what the hurricane center uses to determine the path of the hurricane, as well as its speed.

Although only the initial results are in, Major Janney said the radar pictures he saw were very good.

"We did find an anomaly and can't tell if it's in the hardware or software," he said. "That needs to be run down before we know how well the improved radar system performed. We think we have the correct solution, but we need additional verification, validation of the data, to determine our final test results."

Besides the radar-modification testing, the team also flew a new propeller modification -- a propeller with metal covers on the leading edge to protect its de-icing equipment, Mr. Miller said.

"In order to complete this supplementary testing, we had to seek out extremely heavy rain and hail," he said.

Preliminary results show that the propeller performed quite well, he said.

Overall, the WC-130J accomplished its hurricane fix mission, proving the test team successful.

“There are some things that still need to be investigated like lightening certification, but we are very close to a workable solution,” Major Janney said. “We are right on the cusp of having all the answers and will soon be able to send this aircraft on its way to operationally support the 53rd's 'Hurricane Hunter' mission; a replacement airframe for their C-130H models."

The WC-130J will provide the 53rd WRS crews a more reliable aircraft and ultimately increase mission effectiveness, he said. Once in place, crewmembers will use it to conduct weather reconnaissance for hurricanes in the fall and storms in the winter. Until then, the aircraft will continue radar testing and supporting the hurricane center by providing vital storm atmospheric information throughout the 2004 hurricane season. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)