The WC-130 Hercules are high-wing, medium-range aircraft flown for weather reconnaissance missions. The WC-130 is a modified version of the C-130 transport configured with computerized weather instrumentation for penetration of severe storms to obtain data on storm's movements, dimensions and intensity. By 2006, only the WC-130J was in operation with the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, the "Hurricane Hunters," an Air Force Reserve Command unit flying out of Keesler Air Force Base, Mississipppi. Its hurricane reconnaissance area includes the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and central Pacific Ocean areas.
The first WC-130 aircraft, the WC-130Bs, became operational in 1962. These were followed by WC-130E aircraft in 1965 and additional WC-130B aircraft in 1970-71. Eleven HC-130H aircraft were modified to WC-130Hs beginning in 1972 and were delivered between 1973 and 1974. Additional WC-130Hs were delivered in 1975. In 1992, funding was approved for a weather reconnaissance variant of the C-130J to replace the ten remaining WC-130Hs. The WC-130Hs were slated to be converted back to an aerial tanker configuration.
In addition, 3 C-130A aircraft were converted to WC-130A aircraft specifically for Project Popeye (also referred to as Operation Popeye), a secret rain making program in Southeast Asia. These aircraft were replaced by WC-130B and WC-130E aircraft in 1970 and the WC-130A aircraft were converted back to standard C-130A transports.
The WC-130 aircraft provide vital tropical cyclone forecasting information. The aircraft penetrate tropical cyclones and hurricanes at altitudes ranging from 500 to 10,000 feet (151.7 to 3033.3 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 (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.
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