North Dakota native flies into hurricanes with unit from Air Force Reserves

When most pilots try to avoid storms, a Fessenden, North Dakota, native spends time flying into storms with the U.S. Air Force Reserves. But he doesn't fly into just any storms. He flies into hurricanes.

U.S. Air Force Reserve Hurricane Hunters fly into the eye of a hurricane. Inside the eye of hurricanes, the air is much calmer.
Contributed / Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman / U.S. Air Force
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FESSENDEN, N.D. — When he left the farm in Fessenden Master Sgt. Christopher Becvar never dreamed his military career would take him to these heights.

He works on board a C-130 Hercules as part of the U.S. Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, also known as Hurricane Hunters, out of Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi.

"It's the same old, rugged, tough C-130 that's been around for years," Becvar said.

The Hurricane Hunters have been collecting data on hurricanes since 1946 and started over a bet between two pilots. Becvar showed a piece of equipment his team uses to evaluate the severity of hurricanes.

"We drop these out of the bottom of the airplane, and as they're falling, they're collecting temperature, wind speed, wind direction and pressure being the big one," he said.


Most recently, the squadron flew into Hurricane Ian as it blasted southwest Florida.

"The moments of severe turbulence is when we're trying to get through that eye wall. So we'll hit it going in, and then once we are in the eye, it's all calm in there," Becvar said.

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Missions like this one become crucial as hurricanes mature.

"It's invaluable because we try to get that (information) out to the people so they can make evacuation plans," Becvar said.

Flying into a hurricane? Becvar, who has been in the Hurricane Hunter unit for 11 years, says it took a little while to get used to a turbulent, bumpy day at work.

"Some storms are not bad, and some storms really rock you," Becvar said.

It's not just the big,public hurricanes this crew flies into. The group also flies into no-name storms to gather data.

The Hurricane Hunters are the public's "canary in the coal mine," flying high, warning what is ahead.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

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