It’s stormy, zero visibility and for more pilots that usually means a NO GO for flying. Not for the crews of the NOAA Hurricane Hunters. These brave pilots and scientists fly their specially outfitted P3 Orion propeller aircraft directly into hurricanes, tropical storms and areas of low pressure in the sea. They do this to gather important data that is used by the National Hurricane Center and forecasters to predict the track of tropical cyclones.
Call me crazy, but I’ve been wanting to fly with these guys for years! The men and women of the Hurricane Hunter crews based at Macdill AFB in Tampa are a group of talented, brave and interesting individuals and I wanted to photograph them.
The NOAA Hurricane Hunters fly into storms in 3 aircraft, a Gulfstream IV jet nicknamed Gonzo and two Orion P3’s named Kermit and Miss Piggy. We were flying in Miss Piggy since Kermit was down for maintenance.
Our flight was scheduled for 9 hours.
Since this was first time I’ve flown with the Hurricane Hunters I did not really know what to expect as far as gear. I knew I had to travel light since space would possibly be limited. I spoke with my editor Skip O’Rourke for some tips since he has flown with them a few years ago. One tip he said…. bring a snack, it’s gonna be a long flight. I brought some trail mix, and crackers as well as two bottles of water. I really planned to bring a sandwich but I wasn’t sure it that was overdoing it. That was a mistake! More about that later.
As far as photo gear I knew I would be doing mostly photos inside of the aircraft in addition to some photos outside the window I knew I needed a wide angle lense. Our pool 14mm lense was unavailable so I stuck with my 17-40mm on a Canon 1D Mark IV body. I also brought a GoPro 4 to do some time lapses of us going through the clouds.
When we left Tampa the storm was called Tropical Depression #9 (TD9) but once we flew into the storm and dropped special sensors called Dropsondes into the storm data collected was used to upgrade TD9 to Tropical Storm Hermine.
You can read more about our flight in an article by Tampa Bay Times military beat reporter Howard Altman. Howard and I were the lucky two guys from the Times to fly with these amazing men and women. He tells the story much better than what I can!