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J-Model Hurricane Hunters log 124th mission during Wilma

An Air Force Reserve Command WC-130J from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., takes off to hunt another hurricane. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's "Hurricane Hunters" are the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service.

An Air Force Reserve Command WC-130J from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., takes off to hunt another hurricane. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's "Hurricane Hunters" are the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service.

An Air Force Reserve Command WC-130J from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., taxis out to hunt another hurricane. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's "Hurricane Hunters" are the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service.

An Air Force Reserve Command WC-130J from the 403rd Wing at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., taxis out to hunt another hurricane. The 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron's "Hurricane Hunters" are the only Department of Defense unit with the designated mission of flying into hurricanes to gather critical data for the National Weather Service.

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- The newest addition to the U.S. Air Force mobility fleet, the WC-130J Hercules, proved itself during a busy hurricane season flying its 124th weather reconnaissance mission for the National Weather Service Oct. 21. 

The hurricane hunters, an Air Reserve unit from the 403rd Wing dislocated by Hurricane Katrina from Keesler Air Force Base, Ms., to Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga., increased their capabilities, replacing their 30-year-old C-130Hs with the J-model in 2004. 

Their season began June 8 with Tropical Storm Arlene.  They have clocked nearly 1,200 flying hours during these 124 missions. 

Despite being displaced and working out of a temporary home, the men and women of the Hurricane Hunters have flown daily operations since Wilma became a tropical depression.  They have flown 10 missions thus far for Wilma. 

The Hurricane Hunters, observed the lowest ever barometric pressure in the Atlantic basin, measuring 882 millibars Oct. 19 as Wilma peaked with winds of 175 mph. 

With data provided by the 403rd Wing reservists, the National Hurricane Center in Miami was able to determine that Wilma was briefly stronger than any Atlantic storm on record, including Hurricane Katrina. Katrina devastated the Hurricane Hunters’ home base and local communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast in August. 

After the hurricane became a Category 4 storm, the Hurricane Hunters continued flying aircraft in and out of the storm about every six hours, providing fixes to the hurricane center around the clock. 

With the Hurricane Hunters scheduled to return home to Keesler Nov. 2, they are planning to ensure a smooth transition and to keep their mission going as they have throughout the season.