Before there was satellite and Doppler radar the hurricane hunters flew missions over the oceans to find and track tropical storms. From 1945 to 1975 the U.S. Navy had squadron of crews and airplanes that they used. Since 1944 the 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserves has controlled the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron to also be Hurricane Hunters. Plus the NOAA has a team. The job of the hurricane hunters was and is to gather information about wind speeds, rainfall and barometric pressures within the storm.
The 403rd Wing of the Air Force Reserves, 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron is today the only organization of the Department of Defense which is still flying into tropical storms and hurricanes. The NOAA also continues to have aircraft that operate throughout the world. The Air Force and NOAA provide scientists with data collected about the environment and the geographic information to research storms and provide the National Weather Service with information on the storms. This information is vital because it is collected in areas were there are no observation stations and leads to better warnings about storms approaching populated areas.
According to information gathered at the NAOO website, from June 1st to November 30th the Air Force runs missions over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico and from November 1st to April 15th they are running missions on both coasts. During the winter in America, they look for and track potent North Easters off the New England and Nova Scotia Coasts.
The Air Force Hurricane Hunters crew consists of a pilot and co-pilot, an engineer, the navigator, a weather technician (Drop Zone System Operator) and a weather officer (the science officer). As one could guess each has a unique job that must be done very accurately, as these men and women are going into dangerous conditions every time they fly.
When the team first investigates they fly missions at very low levels, 500 to 1500 feet and determine if the winds near the ocean surface are blowing in a counterclockwise circle and to pin point the center of the developing storm. As the storm gets stronger, they enter at 5000 to 10000 feet and go through to find the eye of the storm. They never fly over the storm as they can not collect data unless they are actually in the storm.