ORLANDO, Fla. - They strap in through the cover of darkness with bolts of lightning nearing the plane right into the belly of the beast.
Members of the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, collectively known as the "Hurricane Hunters," serve as the frontlines when tropical storms threaten the United States.
The Hurricane Hunters provide real-time data about tropical storms.
"It's Mr. Toad's wild ride, where it definitely takes everybody onboard to get through and safely navigate the aircraft," said pilot Marc Mcallister.
Mcallister is currently flying through Tropical Storm Debby while his wife and children are home in Orlando.
When he's not flying into storms or being a dad, Mcallister flies commercial flights for United.
Ilene and Eric Bundy both fly with the hurricane hunters. Ilene is an onboard meteorologist and Eric is an aircraft commander.
The couple met during Hurricane Katrina, and now they pack the van and bring their two young children in tow when they have to work a storm.
"We make it work. It's a family event. Every time we have to go up to Biloxi, Mississippi, we drag 'em with us," said Ilene Bundy, who is originally from the area near Keesler Aiforce Base in Mississippi, where the 403rd Wing is located.
As the meteorologist onboard, Ilene analyzes data from instruments called dropsondes, which are deployed from the aircraft. The dropsondes give the National Hurricane Center an idea of where a storm is tracking and how intense it is.
She was one of the first people to see Hurricane Charley take the turn that no one expected.
"You know that no one down there was prepared no one saw this coming ... they thought it was going to go way north of them," said Ilene.
She said she doesn't worry about her husband when he is flying with the squadron.
"He is one of the best pilots I know, I never worry about him," said Ilene.
But Eric admits even the best pilots can be shaken.
"We went out to investigate, at the time, Tropical Storm Wilma, which ended up being a Category 5 storm. I got out of that and said you guys are nuts, I'm not doing that again," said Eric.
Mcallister said he, too, has had his life flash before his eyes. But they all agreed the risk is worth the reward.
"It's a nice sense of accomplishment when you land and you turn on the news and there's all the data that I collected being used to warn the people," said Ilene.
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