From Wild Blue Yonder to Storm Central

Whether it is the roar of the jets screaming by overhead or a chance to see a plane up-close and personal, it’s hard to pass up an opportunity to visit an air show. An estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people were at the Charlotte County Airport on Saturday to see the Florida International AirShow.

If you’re like me, watching planes fly overhead is thrilling enough. But a chance to see the aeronautic acrobatics of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds or the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team is breath-taking on another level.

As with most shows, it’s what’s in the skies that draws the crowd. For me, the real star of the show was the Lockheed-Martin WC-130J. Known as hurricane hunters,  these four prop-engine hulks actually fly into hurricanes. The crew can give weather trackers information on wind speeds and the location of the storm’s eye.

It takes a whole crew of aircraft mechanics to make sure the WC-130 is ready to head into hurricanes. They check the airplane from nose to tail, including the exit lights. The WC-130 is a workhorse of aviation. The ceiling is a bundle of wires, cables, and ductwork running the length of the aircraft. In short, it isn’t built for comfort.

Believe it or not, the aircraft wings are not specially reinforced for trips into hurricane winds. It makes sense, because a wing is designed to fly through the air, whether that’s at a slow speed or a very high one. The crew gradually turns the aircraft into the wind (a process called “crabbing”) until it punches through to the eye of a hurricane. Things get bumpy, but when you see the size of this thing in person, you’ll understand why it doesn’t get blown away.

The WC-130 has enough fuel to fly for about 14 hours. That’s enough for 4 center fixes of a hurricane. A single mission like that usually takes 11 hours!

The next time you visit an air show, take the opportunity to check out some of the planes sitting on the ground. While they might not be as flashy as all the stunts in the sky, the machines and the men and women who maintain them, are real heroes.

If this stuff fascinates you as well, be sure to check out one of our aviation training schools so you can become part of this interesting career field!

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