The WC-130J “Weatherbird” is a modularly configurable C-130J equipped with specialized systems to penetrate tropical and winter storms, capture meteorological data, and aid severe weather forecasting.
Early WC-130Bs entered service in 1959, followed by the WC-130E in 1962, and WC-130H in 1964. The WC-130J began replacing legacy variants in 1999, though several H models remained in service with the Puerto Rico ANG until a fatal crash resulted in the fleet’s retirement in 2019.
All WC-130Js are operated by AFRC’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron “Hurricane Hunters” at Keesler. Mission equipment includes a pod-mounted SteppedFrequency Microwave Radiometer (SFMR) for monitoring surface winds and precipitation rates, parachute-deployed GPS dropsondes to gather vertical atmospheric profiles, and palletized operator stations/equipment.
WC-130Js are optionally equipped with two external wing tanks, as well as an internal auxiliary fuel tank to increase range and endurance. Crews include an added aerial weather reconnaissance officer/flight director and weather system specialist/loadmaster.
Aircraft are capable of penetrating tropical cyclones from up to 10,000 ft to as low as 500 ft. The fleet primarily monitors oceanic weather over the Atlantic, Central Pacific, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Airframes are modernized in line with the baseline C-130J fleet, including Block 8.1 upgrades, airspace compliance mods, and enhanced service-life center wing sections.
The 2020 hurricane season was the third busiest since 1975, with WC-130Js logging 146 missions monitoring 20 named storms in the Atlantic and two in the Pacific.
Contractor: Lockheed Martin.
First Flight: April 5, 1996 (C-130J).
Delivered: Sept. 30, 1999-September 2005.
IOC: October 2006.
Aircraft Location: Keesler AFB, Miss.
Active Variants: •WC-130J. Weather reconnaissance version of C-130J.
Dimensions: Span 132.6 ft, length 97.8 ft, height 38.8 ft.
Weight: Max T-O 155,000 lb; max payload 42,000 lb.
Power Plant: Four Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprops, each 4,700 shp.
Performance: Speed 417 mph; range with 35,000 lb payload 1,841 miles (3,000+ miles with external/auxiliary tanks).
Ceiling: With max payload, 26,000 ft.
Accommodation: Two pilots, aerial reconnaissance weather officer, loadmaster/dropsonde operator.
Load: Palletized weather systems.