Science and Technology News

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Satellite Phone increase technology for Hurricane Hunters

by Master Sgt. Brian Lamar
403rd Public Affairs


5/21/2014 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- On Oct 12, 1974, six airmen were preparing their WC-130H to fly into Typhoon Bess. The last time anyone ever heard from the 54th Weather Reconnaissance Squadron "Typhoon Hunters" was when their position was radioed in to Clark Air Force Base at 10 p.m. 400 miles northwest of the coast of the Philippines.

Crash investigators later speculated that a catastrophic event had sent the plane into the churning waters below. No emergency radio communication was ever received from the aircraft, known as call sign Swan 38.

Technology and communication equipment has improved vastly since 1974. To further enhance communication capabilities, the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron Hurricane Hunters upgraded to commercial Iridium satellite phones. This year, all 10 of the WC-130J Hurricane Hunting aircraft will have Satphones installed into the aircraft.

"We have been working on getting the phones in the aircraft for a few years now, this will help us tremendously," said Lt. Col. Robert Stanton, Operations Group deputy commander.

Even with technology advances since the late 70s with current radios, the aircraft has to be within line-of-sight to another radio tower or use High Frequency Band radios, which the signal also diminishes during a storm.

"We tend to fly fairly low and a lot of times were not in their radar coverage so they can't see us and they can't talk to us because we're too low and all this stuff is line of sight," said Talbot.

Talking to Air Traffic Control becomes imperative when venturing into another country's airspace.

"Often, we [Hurricane Hunters] will need to gain clearance from control and ... to ensure another aircraft isn't nearby but we couldn't because the radio communication failed," Talbot explained.

In January, the first of 10 aircraft successfully completed the installation and communication testing began to ensure all the satphones were functioning properly. Currently five aircraft have been upgraded and the other half of the Hunter fleet should be completed by July.

"The phones worked perfectly, we now have a capability to call the National Hurricane Center and give them updates and discuss the data we are seeing during a storm," said Lt. Col. Jon Talbot, the 53rd WRS chief meteorologist.

Before the additional phones, the Hurricane Hunters could text information, but had no capability to discuss what they were seeing while in the air.

As an added layer of safety through communication, the Hurricane Hunters will now have this tool to more efficiently and safely complete their job and a potential catastrophic emergency like the one that took Swan 38 could be avoided.

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