The Lost Hurricane/Typhoon Hunters: In Memoriam


People have been flying into hurricanes and typhoons ever since 1943, when Colonel Joe Duckworth took a single engine AT-6 trainer aircraft into the Category 1 Surprise Hurricane off the coast of Texas. Hurricane hunting became safer with the introduction of sturdier 4-engine planes, but flying through the eyewall of any hurricane remains a dangerous occupation--one that has claimed six hurricane or typhoon hunter planes, with loss of 53 lives. Five of these flights were into Pacific typhoons, and one into an Atlantic hurricane. In these web pages we honor the memory of the Hurricane Hunters that gave their lives to help protect those in the path of these great and dangerous storms.

October 1, 1945: Navy PB4Y-2 was lost in a Category 1 typhoon over the South China Sea
October 26, 1952: Air Force WB-29 was lost in Category 5 Typhoon Wilma east of the Philippines
December 16, 1953: A Navy PB4Y-2S was lost in Category 2 Typhoon Doris near Guam
September 26, 1955: A Navy P2V Neptune was lost in Category 4 Hurricane Janet in the Caribbean
January 15, 1958: An Air Force WB-50 was lost in Category 4 Typhoon Ophelia near Guam
October 12, 1974: An Air Force WC-130H was lost in Category 1 Typhoon Bess in the South China Sea

Special addendum: a Cold War mystery
September 10, 1956: An Air Force RB-50G Superfortress flying in the vicinity of Typhoon Emma was lost over the Sea of Japan. This was not a typhoon hunting aircraft, as is often reported. The aircraft was stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan, and assigned to the 41st Air Division, 5th Air Force, and was performing electronic of photographic intelligence of the Soviet Union, North Korea, and China. The military gave out a "cover story" saying that the aircraft was lost performing weather reconnaissance. From Bernie Barris of the Air Reconnaissance Weather Association, "This aircraft was NOT lost in a typhoon penetration, nor was it shot down by the Soviets, as was often speculated. It was an RB-50G on a Strategic Reconnaissance mission. Everything I've read is that they were on the fringes of the typhoon, but more than likely the plane was lost due to mechanical problems, which plagued the B-50 in the 1950's. The typhoon did impact search efforts. The Soviets never released any records of tracking or attacking this flight; it is one of those true Cold War mysteries."

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Figure 1. A Popular Mechanics cover story from 1950 dramatized the dangers that the early typhoon hunters faced. From the article: "It is impossible for me to describe accurately or exaggerate the severity of the turbulence we encountered. To some it may sound utterly fantastic, but to me it was a flight for life. I have flown many weather missions in my 30 months with the 514th Reconnaissance Squadron. I have flown night combat missions in rough weather out of England, and I have instructed instrument flying in the States, but never have I dreamed of such turbulence as we encountered in Typhoon Beverly. It is amazing to me the ship held together as it did."