Welcome once again to Going, Going, Gone. A podcast by Texas Star Auctions where we look at a few of our favorite items, and we tell the history behind them that makes them so unique. If you haven’t already please subscribe, so that you don’t miss any of our short stories. We try to make them engaging, informative, and a little quirky and we love having you here for every single one.
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Most people would run, sprint, fly away from danger. Most people look for their safety in numbers. Most people look at the gravity of what mother nature can do to entire towns, buildings, and peoples’ homes. Most people would run from a hurricane. And yet, most people have also never heard of the Hurricane Hunters.
In 1951, the deadliest tropical cyclone of that years’ Atlantic hurricane season, was barreling across the sea and heading right for Corpus Christi, Texas. Or at least that’s what everyone thought. Hurricane Charlie started from a tropical wave east of the Lesser Antilles. Had it hit Corpus Christi, Tx it most likely would have made the history books, and it would have been a topic of conversation that we still talk about today, because it surely would have destroyed a good majority of the lives that the people of Corpus Christi, Port Arthur, North Padre Island had at that time. Instead, the hurricane struck Jamaica with winds of 135 miles an hour, before then hurtling into the Mexican coast and the Yucatan Peninsula. Hurricane Charlie was responsible for 250 deaths. It is known as the deadliest natural disaster of the 20th century for Jamaica and has numbers ranging around $50,000,000 in damages and 152 dead. This hurricane was huge. However, back in 1951, we didn’t have the same technology we do today, and we would have never known some of the things we know now had it not been for the Air Force Reserve’s 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, better known today as the Hurricane Hunters.
Hurricane Hunting, as it were, is said to have started on a dare in the middle of World War II, when Lt. Col. Joe Duckworth took an AT-6 Texan training aircraft into the eye of a hurricane. Once again, it’s important to note that Lt. Col. Duckworth is not most people. As the story goes Duckworth was being ribbed and teased by his trainees at the time because they believed their training aircraft to be frail, and feeble compared to what they one day would like to be flying. Duckworth seemed to have had enough as he hopped in his training aircraft, and without notifying headquarters flew with a trainee into a 1943 storm off the coast of Galveston. This was the first time a plane had ever been intentionally and safely flown into an active hurricane. When he got back he described the event as “Being tossed about like a stick in a dog’s mouth” which to me sounds like a very soft and easy way to describe what had to be such a death defying moment. To Duckworth’s credit, after that there had never been another word said about the readiness or strength of the AT-6 Texan, and just one year later the Weather Reconnaissance Squadron was formed. While Duckworth is probably the most notable Hurricane Hunter, he of course is not the only one.
This is Captain Nicholas Brango. A while back in an auction we had reel to reel audio tapes, which we learned had the original audio from an interview with Captain Brango in 1951 as he was preparing for his reconnaissance mission into the eye of Hurricane Charlie. He has a host of notable accomplishments including a college boxing championship, flying patrol bombers during World War II, and even serving on the staff of Admiral John McCain, Commander in Chief of the Pacific in Honolulu Hawaii. However, none of that is as much his claim to fame as the more than 30 hurricanes he flew head on into as a part of the Hurricane Reconnaissance Squadron.
As Captain Brango explains, these missions which started as dares among pilots testing their limits, quickly became an invaluable way to view hurricanes. While it is a light-hearted view of their beginnings, these service men and women truly understand how important their job was and still is. These war planes which were once outfitted with bombs, and guns are now outfitted with meteorology equipment tuned for a different type of enemy. Captain Brango was on the coast of Corpus Christi in 1951 as Hurricane Charlie started to pick up steam. Him and his team continually flew into the eye of the storm, gathering data about pressure, temperature, and wind speed. For the first time, ever, they could get a brand-new look at this incredibly dangerous, big, storm.
Even today in 2019 with all the advancements of satellite and radar, the Hurricane Hunters are still used to assist in providing an accurate look at the interior barometric pressure of the hurricane, as well as providing accurate wind speed information.
Even today in 2019 most people would run, sprint, fly away from danger. And yet most people are thankful that the Hurricane Hunters don’t.
Thank you once again for listening. This once again is Going, Going, Gone, a product of Texas Star Auctions out of Alvarado, Tx. We specialize in Mid-Century Furniture, Antiques, Collectibles, and a host of other things so head on over to our website at TexasStarAuctions.com. That is also where you will find any of our other short stories, our calendar, and a couple pages that tell you a little bit more about who we are. We’ll see you next time.