Current aircraft used to penetrate hurricanes (the AT-6 Texan not pictured).
On July 27, 1943, Col. Joseph Duckworth, commander of the Instrument Flying School in Bryan, Texas, flew an AT-6 Texan, a single-engine, two-seat trainer, into a hurricane that was moving ashore near Galveston, Texas, proving it could be done.
As recalled by the navigator, Lieutenant Ralph O'Hair, on that morning, word was being spread that a hurricane was coming ashore near Galveston and that the planes at the field may have to be flown out for safety.
Many of the British pilots were already "aces" from earlier battles over Europe and felt that they deserved to be trained in the top fighters that the United States had to offer, not this AT-6 Texan.
When they heard that the planes may have to be flown away from the storm, they really started gigging the instructors about the frailty of their trainer.
The problem was that few, if any, European had ever experienced a true hurricane. They thought it was just another big thunderstorm.
Finally Duckworth had enough of the ribbing and whining of these pilots and bet them that he could fly the Texan into the storm and back, showing that both the plane and his instrument flying technique was sound.
The bet was on. A highball to the winner!
Colonel Duckworth then looked across the breakfast table at Lt. Ralph O'Hair, the only navigator at the field that morning and asked him to fly with him.
O'Hair was taken back by the bet but agreed to fly with him, due to the respect he had for Duckworth's skill as a pilot.
Since they felt that headquarters wouldn't approve the flight due to the risk of the aircraft and the crew, they decided to do it without official permission.
The main problem that passed through O'Hair's mind was that if their single engine quit for some reason like being flooded out from the heavy rain, they would be in deep trouble.
As they closed on the hurricane which was now ashore, he thought about what it would be like if he had to use the parachute.
As they approached the storm at a height of between 4,000 to 9,000 feet the air became very turbulent. He described the flight now as like, "being tossed about like a stick in a dog's mouth." The rain was very heavy as the flew through the darkness, fighting the updrafts and downdrafts.
Suddenly they broke into the eye of the storm.
This was not the purpose of the flight, but really an accident.
The sky was filled with bright clouds and it seemed that they were surrounded by a shower curtain of darker clouds. A they looked down they could see the country side. The storm had indeed moved inland.
O'Hair described the shape of the center as like a leaning cone. The lower section dragging a bit behind due to the friction from contact with the land. The eye seemed to be about nine or 10 miles across and they circled inside.
As they exited the eye, the dark overcast and heavy rain again pounded them until they made their way out of the storm and back towards Bryan Field.
As they arrived back at the field, the weather officer, Lt. William Jones-Burdick asked to be flow into the storm, so O'Hair jumped out and the weather officer flew off into the hurricane with Duckworth.
After that flight, Bryan Field became a mecca for Allied pilots wanting to learn the fine art of "Instrument Flying."
That night the bet was paid and no more comments were given on the sturdiness of the AT-6. That was also the last flight into a hurricane for O'Hair.
Though only a Category 1 (possibly a Category 2) hurricane, it did extensive damage to the region ($16.6 million). Nineteen lives were also reported lost.
Many plants producing war materials were damaged from high winds and water.
At the time of the storm, the huge Humble Oil and Refining Company at Baytown was the main producer of the Allied Forces' supply of aviation fuel, and its toluene production, an ingredient of TNT, was also vital to the war effort.
With four large cooling towers demolished and other damage to the facility, production at the plant had to be suspended. Refineries at Texas City and Deer Park also saw their war production suspended, due to bad damage from the hurricane. The sum of hurricane damage caused major disruptions of war oil production.
The news of this hurricane was heavily censored by the government due to national security.
The loss of production of war materials couldn't be found out by the enemy.
This was 1943 and the tides in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters of war were finally starting to turn.
There was a report that the FBI shutdown the telegraph office in La Porte, Texas, because someone had sent a telegram out of the state informing someone of the damages from the hurricane.
The only news of the hurricane was published in the two states that were affected, Texas and Louisiana.
After this hurricane, never again were advisories censored from the public.
War or no war, the risk to human life is too great.
(Information from an National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration article written by Lew Fincher. Oral history account as recalled by retired Lt. Col. Ralph O'Hair).
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