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Air Force flight crew punished for stopping C-130 to pick up a motorcycle

A WC-130J Super Hercules aircraft assigned to the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kristen Pittman)
May 12, 2022

Five members of a U.S. Air Force reserve flight crew tasked with tracking hurricanes and other severe weather systems were punished after making an unannounced detour during a C-130 training flight in March to pick up one member’s vintage motorcycle.

Members of 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron (WRS) “Hurricane Hunters” were spotted at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., in March loading a motorcycle onto one of the WC-130J Super Hercules they use to track severe weather. Following the sighting, the 403rd Wing launched an investigation into its component squadron and, in an emailed statement to American Military News, confirmed it had disciplined the flight crew.

403rd Wing spokesperson Lt. Col. Marnee A.C. Losurdo said the wing had determined the 53rd WRS crew was supposed to be flying from Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi to Quonset Air National Guard Base, Rhode Island on March 24 as part of a monthly qualification flight. The crew was supposed to continue on to Mather, California to pick up 403rd Wing equipment.

“The following day [on March 25], the crew, unbeknownst to 403rd leadership, added Martha’s Vineyard Airport to the itinerary to retrieve a crewmember’s 1970 BMW R75/5 motorcycle,” Losurdo said.

Losurdo said the crew continued onto Mather, California and the 403rd Wing learned of the unannounced stop in Martha’s Vineyard on March 27. Losurdo said “they grounded the crew at Mather, and sent another crew to pick up the aircraft and crew March 28.”

Losurdo said all of the crew members involved in making the unannounced stop had their crew qualifications downgraded and were served “administrative actions” as punishment.

After all the trouble the crew went through to pick up the motorcycle, Losurdo said the vintage bike “remains in California.”

403rd Wing Commander Col. Stuart M. Rubio said, “The personal stop was an abuse of government assets. We hold our reservists to the highest standards of conduct and these actions are not tolerated.”

The 53rd WRS is the only unit in the entire U.S. Department of Defense that flies into tropical storms to gather weather data for National Hurricane Center forecasts that weather satellites can’t collect. During the winter months, the unit tracks winter storms on the east coast of the U.S. and so-called “atmospheric rivers” on the west coast. These atmospheric rivers are massive systems of concentrated moisture in the atmosphere that can bring intense rainfall and subsequent flooding. In order to collect key data on these weather systems, the 53rd WRS has to deploy to several locations around the country.