53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron

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The 53rd WRS moved to Burtonwood in November 1953 & used the ‘C’ type hangars on Mary Ann site, with a complement of 8 converted B-29 bomber’s to WB29’s & later replaced with WB-50’s.

They were assigned to collecting weather data for (MATS) which stands for ‘Military Air Transport Services’.

Each day they flew triangular patterns known as ‘Falcon Flights’ covering about 2,600 miles & averaging 16 hours each flight over the Atlantic.

‘Delta Flights’ left each day at Burtonwood at: 0700 hrs GMT & flew a track to the Azores - then South of Greenland – then set course East, back to home base at Burtonwood.

The flight was 3,686 miles long & the average flying time was 15 hours.

The weathermen on the aircraft recorded data such as: Pressure, Temperature, Wind Speed, Humidity, Cloud Conditions & Visibility.

The 53rd WRS left Burtonwood for re-assignment to Alconbury in Cambridgeshire in April 1959.

53rd WRS Crash at Lupton Fell (Nr Kendal in the Lake District)

On the 25th of October 1955 Falcoln Flight WB-29-44-61600 Superfortress developed engine failure on engines 1,2 & 4 at 3,200 feet & crashed.

All 11 crew safely landed by parachute & the aircraft was abandoned.

The very next day, personnel from Burtonwood arrived at the crash site & began to investigate what caused the aircraft crash & too remove all of the wreckage.

Earlier this month (May 2012) we were lucky enough to make contact with someone who was actually involved with the 53rd WRS.

His name is ‘Dennis Sullivan’ & he served at Burtonwood from Feb/1954 till Feb/1957.

Here in Dennis’s own words is what his role was in the 53rd & a little about the system that they used whilst on these long missions:

“My job was a Ground Crew Chief (I was Staff Sgt.) in charge of the airborne radar systems for 4 of our 8 planes. There were three systems on each plane.

Navigation (this was the familiar circular display that depicts the land mass below), the second system was LORAN which gave you three points of reference which then enabled you to determine your position.

The last was a radio altimeter which gauged your altitude.

The normal complement of crew was ten. I was not a crew member on flying status. I was only on a flying crew if there was a malfunction in the air that wasn' t apparent when airborne.”

Below are photos that Dennis has kindly emailed to us from his own private collection (please NO copying without permission from Dennis himself).

53rd weather reconnaissance squadron and MATS military air transport services
squadron sign-on mary ann site, with a Boeing WB 50 Supper fortress in the background.

Boeing WB50 Supper fortress tail number 462090 on the mary ann site apron.

Boeing WB50 Supper fortress with its tail sticking out
of one of the C-Type hangar on mary ann site. 

Boeing WB50 Supper fortress tail number 461600 having maintenance
on its elevator inside one of the C-Type hangars on mary ann site.

Boeing WB50 Supper fortress on the mary ann site
apron with the technical site in the background.

During 1959 Boeing WB-50D Superfortresses
which at present comprise the 53rd W.R.Squadron’s fleet is
80060, 80071, 80116, 90261, 90273, 90275, 90286, 90288 and 90302.

The reason for the recent absence of 90288 is that it has been to
Birmingham, Alabama, for general overhaul by Hayes Aircraft.

Boeing WB50 Super Fortress Landing at Burtonwood

Boeing WB50 Super Fortress on one of the 'Open' Days in the 1950's.

(Note the weather sampling turret on top of the fuselage)

Boeing WB50 Super Fortress on Mary Ann Site Next to one of the 'C' Type Hangars.

(Bold Power Station Cooling Towers Can Clearly be Seen in the Background)

 53rd Weather Reconnaissance on a Falcon Alpha Mission 1957 Over the Ice Pack.

The Falcons have left Burtonwood. Some folk in the north of England will be glad. They objected to being roused early every morning by the WB-50 roaring across their rooftops. They could not know the connection between that flight and the weather forecasts they would listen to on the radio during the rest of the day.

The Falcons—the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron, U.S.A.F.—left Burtonwood because the American Air Force base is being closed. They will be continuing their meteorological flights to the North Polar region and over the Atlantic from their new base at Alconbury, near Huntingdon. But I think we might take this opportunity of thanking them for the work they did while at Burtonwood.

The 53rd is one of seven U.S.A.F. weather reconnaissance squadrons stationed in various parts of the world. It came to England in November 1953 from Bermuda, where it had become famous as the Hurricane Hunters. The squadron is commanded by Col. William W. Riser, Jr. All tracks flown by the 53rd are named Falcon.

The track of the first meteorological flights in England was Falcon Golf, and lay mainly over the Atlantic. When the B-29s with which the squadron was equipped were replaced by WB-50s this daily flight was extended and the track renamed Falcon Delta.

This track was flown for the 792nd and last time on April 2. The new daily flight, Falcon Echo, is still made over the Atlantic but now goes farther south. In addition to the daily flight, Falcon Alfa was flown every third day and occasionally Falcon Special was added, to gain special data on a specific system or as a replacement for a mission which had to turn back.

The 53rd WRS arrived on the 7th of November 1953 and Departed the 22nd of April 1959

The last Falcon Echo took off from Burtonwood on April 22, but instead of returning there landed at Alconbury.

Delta mission left Burtonwood at 0700 hr G.M.T. every day. The track, 3,686 miles long, extended from Liverpool to a point 250 miles north of the Azores, swung north along the 30th meridian to a point 420 miles south-east of Greenland, and then turned east back to Burtonwood.

The first leg was flown at 10,000ft, the second at 18,000ft and the third at 30,000ft. Average time taken was fifteen hours. Weather observations were made at fixed points 150 n.m. apart. The weatherman, seated in the nose of the aircraft, recorded wind speed and direction, pressure, humidity, temperature, cloud conditions, visibility, surface winds, and pack-ice conditions (if any). Radar findings were added.

At five of the nineteen "obs" a radio-dropsonde was released. Descending at l,500ft/min, this transmitted back to the operator in the aircraft readings of temperature, pressure, and humidity every 100ft until it hit the sea.

Since the aircraft was unable to maintain direct radio contact "Falcon Echo" crews being briefed FALCON ECHO with Burtonwood, the information gathered was coded by the radio operator and sent to Croughton radio station, near Uxbridge. From Croughton the information was transmitted to the 53rd's weather monitor at Burtonwood, where it was decoded and carefully checked for transmission errors before being sent by direct teletype to the Central Weather Station at High Wycombe.

Similar observations are made on the Falcon Echo flight, now being continued from Alconbury. The track runs down to the Madeira Islands, then swings northward to a point on the 26 deg W meridian near the Azores, then almost due north-east back to England. Falcon Alfa, flown on every day with a date divisible by three, is also being continued from Alconbury.

The track extends up the coast of Norway into the Polar regions and back by Iceland and down the west coast of Scotland—again, out at 18,000ft and back at 30,000ft. This is the flight that achieved fame in the national Press one Christmas, when it became known that when flying over the North Pole the crewmen obliged homebase children by dropping letters there for Santa Claus.

I was able to visit Burton wood before the 53rd left, and saw one of the WB-50s (four Pratt & Whitney R-4360) with which the squadron is now equipped. The aircraft is large, with a wing-span of 141ft, and a fuselage 99ft long and 33ft high at the tail-fin, yet there does not seem to be much room inside. There are two pressurized compartments, connected by a narrow tunnel running over what was the bomb-bay of the original Superfort.

Instead of bombs this now houses a fibre tank, jettisonable in an emergency but necessary to enable the WB-50 to carry the 10,000 U.S. gal of fuel required for the weather flight. Most of the space in the forward compartment seems to be taken up by instruments.

To ensure the navigational accuracy required for weather reconnaissance the WB-50 carries Loran APN-9, Nl gyro-stabilized magnetic compass, two ARN-7 radio-compasses, APS-23 radar, a much-used Dl periscopic sextant, Doppler (AN/APN-82) and a good old-fashioned drift-meter. As far as the navigator is concerned, the Doppler consists of six dials respectively showing wind speed, direction, ground speed, track, magnetic course and up to 50 degrees drift.

Behind the weatherman's position are the seats for the two pilots, the flight engineer, and the two navigators. In spite of all the instruments, they still work out their position by dead-reckoning, relying on celestial fixes most of the time. In the rear compartment are the two radio operators and, in waist-blisters, the dropsonde operator and extra flight engineer.

I was told that these men have to keep an eye on the wings, which the pilots cannot see, and that they also have to prepare the meals. For a moment I allowed myself to picture two men, with aprons over their flying suits, sitting in the waist-blisters peeling potatoes; but the two hot meals of meat, vegetables and gravy are, of course, pre-cooked and frozen in metal-foil sectioned plates and only need to be heated in the neat electric oven.

Supplies of milk, coffee, fruit, cakes and candy are also carried. I was told that the 53rd was proud of the fact that it had never once failed to complete its mission. Aircraft have had to turn back with engine trouble—one with a seagull in one of the carburettor intakes—and one force-landed in Norway. But there has always been a WB-50 and crew standing by to finish the job.

The seven American Weather Reconnaissance squadrons have a competition for the Senter Award "for excellence in weather reconnaissance." In 1957 the 53rd won this award, and also a M.A.T.S.

Flying Safety Trophy for an accident-free year. And yet most of the approaches at Burtonwood had to be made under G.C.A. Some_ people think that every American aircraft in this country is carrying a hydrogen bomb and is a potential danger to everyone below.

But here is a squadron that is making a real contribution to the safety of our aircraft as well as its own. Let us wish them good luck as they settle down at their new base at Alconbury

53rd Weather Reconnaissance Loading Mailbags of Children's
Christmas Cards to be Dropped at the North Pole for Santa Claus.  

Dropping letters from British orphans and other children, including youngsters of American personnel

2000 letters received inside building 47A on site 6, located between technical site police station and the back of the Transent Hotel.

The B29 taking off from Burtonwood on route to the North Pole, on its mail-drop of childrens letters

Flight engineer

Coming up to mail drop .....

Getting letters ready for the mail drop ......

18th weather squadron.

As well as the 53rd weather reconnaissance squadron
the 18th weather squadron was assigned to Burtonwood.

The 18th Weather squadron arrived at Burtonwood on December 1943
and departed on June 1945, post-ww2 the squadron returned to
Burtonwood during May 1952 and departed to Prestwick in 1959
when flying at Burtonwood was wound down.

The 18th Weather squadron did not have any aircraft but operated 24 hours
per day, the detachment trained with the RAF to familiarize weather
forecasts with European weather patterns for each day.

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