55th Anniversary of the Research Flight Facility

Research Flight Facility personnel Standing row (L - R): Bill Fitch (navigator), Don George (pilot - DC-6, C-54, B-26), John McCann (pilot - DC-6, C-54, B-26), Red Mettrick (pilot - DC-6), Pat Cunningham (pilot - B-57), Frank Cicirelli (flight engineer DC-6 and C-130), Don Sitman (pilot - DC6), Bob Loomis (pilot - DC-6). Kneeling row (L - R): John Zubritski (B-57 crew chief), Al Ricci (flight engineer - DC-6 and C-130) Jack Lubin (navigator ), Unknown, Brad Patten (flight engineer and instrument fabricator), Tommy Palmer (B-26 crew chief/flight engineer), and American Airmotive manager
Research Flight Facility personnel
Standing row (L – R): Bill Fitch (navigator), Don George (pilot – DC-6, C-54, B-26), John McCann (pilot – DC-6, C-54, B-26), Red Mettrick (pilot – DC-6), Pat Cunningham (pilot – B-57), Frank Cicirelli (flight engineer DC-6 and C-130), Don Sitman (pilot – DC6), Bob Loomis (pilot – DC-6).
Kneeling row (L – R): John Zubritski (B-57 crew chief), Al Ricci (flight engineer – DC-6 and C-130) Jack Lubin (navigator ), Unknown, Brad Patten (flight engineer and instrument fabricator), Tommy Palmer (B-26 crew chief/flight engineer), and American Airmotive manager

On June 1, 1961, the Research Flight Facility (RFF) was formed out of the Aircraft Group of the National Hurricane Research Project (NHRP).  The Group had been established to help maintain and operate the aircraft purchased by the Department of Commerce in 1959 to carry out atmospheric research.  The two DC-6 and B-57 planes were outfitted with new weather instruments and radars and first flew into hurricanes during the 1960 season.  But plans were on the books for the ‘flying laboratories’ to carry out more than just hurricane flights, so it was decided to separate the Group from the research project and set up its own management structure.  The first director of the RFF was Carl Reber, but he was soon replace by Howard Mason, who was both a pilot and an engineer.

dc6s_air
Two DC-6 aircraft (39 Charlie and 40 Charlie) operated as hurricane research planes from 1960 -1975.

RFF underwent several name changes and administrative shuffles as the Weather Bureau became part of the Environmental Science Services Administration (1965) and then the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (1970).  At times, RFF operated C-54, B-26, and C-130 planes.  Today it is the Aircraft Operation Center (AOC) of NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.  AOC operates nine aircraft, including two Orion P-3s and one Gulfstream-IV jet, which are used in hurricane research. It is currently stationed at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, FL, but that is scheduled to change at the end of the 2016 hurricane season.

2 Replies to “55th Anniversary of the Research Flight Facility”

  1. Thank you so much for this article. My father, Jack Lubin is in the front row. Unfortunately, he passed away last weekend, but he had so many great stories about his years flying hurricanes.

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