April 5, 2022 (by Jessica Kendziorek) - The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, commonly known as the "Hurricane Hunters" are going vintage, at least with the paint scheme on their aircraft.
USAF WC-130J #96-5300 assigned to the 53rd WRS at Keesler AFB, taxis to its parking spot on April 5, 2022. The aircraft’s arrival marks the first of the squadron’s 10 aircraft that will undergo a makeover of sorts as they revert to the glossy paint scheme they originally started out with in the late 1990s and early 2000s. [USAF photo by SSgt. Kristen Pittman]
The first of the 10 WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft returned to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., on April 5, with the shiny paint job and the historic "Weather" tail marking.
"Prior to 2007, the squadron's aircraft all had glossy gray paint, which was used on weather reconnaissance aircraft, primarily for its durability, longevity, and efficiency," said Lt. Col. Erik Olson, 53rd WRS director of operations. "It also differentiates our platform from ready-for-combat C130 aircraft and especially ‘other' reconnaissance platforms, since our missions are strictly for peacetime weather data collection."
The Air Force Reserve's 53rd WRS is the only Department of Defense unit that provides surveillance of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Gulf of Mexico, and the central Pacific Ocean for the National Hurricane Center in Miami. The data collected by the 53rd WRS during tasked missions is shared with the government and meteorological agencies in those regions helping the people of those areas be better prepared and make better decisions when hurricanes approach.
"Providing this timely data is made more effective through cooperation with foreign governments, whether coordinating overflight to minimize en route time to working diplomatic clearances in order to fly a hurricane to landfall inside territorial waters," said Lt Col Byron Hudgins, 53rd WRS chief pilot. "The return to the gloss gray paint scheme changes the look from a tactical purpose and is a visual reinforcement to those governments that the WC-130J is there to help."
"We are more than just the ‘Hurricane Hunters,' and the tail flash of ‘Weather' better represents our multiple missions," said Olson. "We also fly reconnaissance into winter storms in the North East and into atmospheric rivers on the West Coast collecting weather data year-round to improve forecasts."
It is also a blast from the past, and to return to the glossy paint takes the 53rd WRS and the 403rd Maintenance Squadron back to when the J-models first arrived at Keesler AFB.
"I flew the last WC-130J to Tinker for the tactical paint back in 2008," said Hudgins. "I have been an advocate for this return ever since, and after 14 years I am happy to see the 53rd WRS return to its roots. We simply had the right people at the right time to make this a successful team effort."
"The glossy gray paint scheme held up much better to the weathering elements during hurricane season than our current tactical gray paint scheme does," said Senior Master Sgt. Stephen Connors, 403rd MXS fabrication flight chief. "And when it comes to maintenance and touch-up painting, the glossy gray lasts longer."
According to their technical data, the maintenance section found the tactical gray required touch-up painting on the leading edges of the wings and on the vertical tail fin after each two-week storm rotation as compared to three to four storm rotations for the glossy gray.
"Going back to the glossy paint saves us money and manpower," said Connors. "Also, the damage caused during the weather flights to the tactical gray paint would sometimes go all the way down to the metal, where the same type of weather damage to the glossy gray paint doesn't have the same effect."
Connors also said that the aircraft are set to follow their normal routine repaint schedule, while touch up will be handled by the fabrication flight.
"I am really excited to see it go back to the old paint scheme. It actually makes a lot of sense financially. The Air Force Reserve ultimately saves money on repainting, because the glossy paint lasts longer," said Maj. Gen. Jay Jensen, Air Force Reserve Command special assistant to the AFRC commander, after seeing the newly painted WC-130J.
"I am loving the old-school look, goes back to the E-models with the ‘Weather' markings," Jensen said. "It is good to see that heritage and tradition return."