Naval Weather Service Association (NWSA)



An association of Aerographers & Mates,
Meteorologists & Oceanographers

CDR Don Cruse, USN RET



This is another in our series of essays covering the varied duties of Aerographers and Mates.


Prior to organized typhoon reconnaissance that was demanded by CincPacFlt following the U.S. 3rd Fleet disasters in WestPac during 1944 and 1945 there was recon of many kinds by Navy patrol squadrons.  Most flights were for routine surveillance, watching for enemy forces.  Aerogs were assigned as aircrew to observe and report weather and sea conditions.  We used aircraft radio and post-flight debriefings to convey our information to a weather central or an air station aerological officer.


After the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 security of our naval communications were tightened up.  Radio silence was imposed on all shipping, thus denying the weather centrals that valuable source of ship weather reports.  A result was increased reliance on weather reports from aircraft.  Aerogs began drawing more flight skins.


Many aircrews were lost over the vast Pacific.  Our roster of Aerogs lost during patrol ops includes Chief Willy Skyrm who was lost somewhere off Canton Island in 1943.  Aerogs at FWC Pearl who were drawing flight skins flew with the VP outfits out of NAS Ford Island and NAS Kaneohe Bay .  These were PBY and PB2Y aircraft flying twelve to sixteen-hour missions.  AerM3c R. J. Huot was lost while on one of these patrols.  Another from FWC Pearl who lost his life was AerM3c Joe Pierre who walked into a PB2Y propeller while boarding his aircraft in the early morning darkness at NAS Kaneohe Bay .


We also recall the long patrol missions flown by AAF B-17 aircraft from Espiritu Santo with AerM3c Frank McGayhey and other Aerogs aboard as weather observers.  Support of 1942 USMC landing operations in the Solomons was a high priority; and FWC Noumea was being commissioned.  Shortly after that FWC Brisbane was commissioned and tasked to support General MacArthur’s new army and U.S. 7th Fleet.


Not all surveillance flights were ordered by higher authorities.  In one instance, CAerM T. B. O’Reilly requested a PBM from USS NORTON SOUND (AV-11) at Kerama Retto to reconnoiter heavy weather developing southeast of Okinawa .  In another 1945 attempt to obtain weather information the flight cost CAerM Bill Browning his life when his aircraft from USS BATAAN (CVL-29) failed to return from Hokkaido .


The key disadvantage faced by all patrol and recon flights was the same.  Our naval communications used HF radio that was subject to interception by the bad guys.  Weather reports were therefore encoded or encrypted for transmission.  The off-line crypto systems were cumbersome and time consuming.  For these reasons critical patrol aircraft weather reported in late 1944 often did not reach FWC Pearl, and in one specific instance our 3rd Fleet thus endured the full-blown typhoon that capsized three destroyers.  Our own Fred Robinson complained about this when he was serving in SW Pac.


After the U.S. 3rd Fleet was clobbered by another typhoon east of Okinawa in June 1945, Admiral Nimitz laid down the law.  The fleet commander, Admiral Halsey, was nearly fired along with his staff aerologist.  As quickly as possible, in a wartime environment, dedicated weather recon resources were ordered.  As is often the case, there was some over reaction here and there.  But the most immediate response to the fleet commander’s orders was fresh emphasis on weather reporting by all patrol squadrons in the Pacific.  Simultaneously, dedicated squadrons were quickly formed to better protect the fleets from heavy weather.  And in January 1945 the AAF B-24 aircraft of the 655th Bombing Sq (heavy) began flying from Guam .


VPM-1 was commissioned 11-15-45 as VPW-1 at NAAS Camp Kearny (now called Miramar ) with PB4Y-2M aircraft.  Several aircraft from another newly-established squadron, VPW-2, were loaned to VPM-1 to assist it in becoming operational in FAW-1 on NAS Agana in April 1947.  VPM-1 flew recon that season.  So far as I can tell, VPW-2 faded away. 


Aerological personnel who were on Guam during this formative recon period included Richard “Shady” Lane, Mike Evanick, R. M. Fenn, Jim Tenbrink, Millerd Martin, Charlton “Pappy” Fairless, Walter May, Jessie Vowell, Bob Ramsey, AerM2c Jerry Ewing, AerM1c Walkden, AerM3c Landon, and George Case.  Reporting aboard FAW-1 for the 1948 recon season were Chiefs George Bellino, Jack Bullington, Don Cruse and Ken Fairbrother.      


As the U.S. and its allies achieved control over more and more of the Pacific ocean area, Fleet Weather Centrals were established farther west and southwest in Guam, Manus and eventually Manila .  FAW-10 began operating from Palawan over the South China Sea .  CAPT Anthony Danis moved in May 1945 from C.O. Navy Weather Central San Francisco to take command of FWC Guam.  He immediately established a dedicated typhoon warning team there.  That team later became the Joint Typhoon Warning Center on 05-01-59.  Recon reports were expedited to FWC Guam by naval communications and disseminated onward via dedicated weather channels.  Even so, right after WW2 ended fleet units at Okinawa took a severe beating from super Typhoon Louise in October, 1945.


With the earlier wartime urgency for typhoon warnings diminishing along with the rapid down phasing of all military operations in the Pacific, VPM-1 was decommissioned.  PB4Y patrol squadrons resumed the task.  On Guam, VPHL-13 lost an aircraft 08-12-48 when it crashed into the island of Rota shortly after launching from NAS Agana on an investigative flight.  On board were two aerologists:  CHAERO F. A. Earle and LTJG W. L. Wise.  We flew with PatRons deployed from NAS Barbers Point to the WestPac.  NAS Sangley Point was decommissioned in 1949 so we operated from Clark AFB when necessary.  The ambiance was not the same, however, although FWF Sangley Point remained operational.


Airborne Early Warning Squadron ONE (VW-1) was commissioned on 06-18-52 at NAS Barbers Point with PB-1W aircraft.  The PB-1W (a B-17 with a large radome mounted between the landing gear) was soon replaced in 1953 by the “Willy Victor,” WV-2 or EC-121K.  This squadron was a multi-mission outfit not restricted to weather recon.  VW-1 was awarded the MUC for services performed for ComSeventhFleet 12-02-67 to 03-01-70, a period that encompassed the Viet Nam war.


The VW-1 squadron history states that it received and began to train six aerologists and eighteen aerographers.  Meteorological equipment was installed in the aircraft.  According to Ray Hennessey, a VW-1 Metro, among the several detachments there was an operational requirement for a VW-1 EastPac detachment to operate from Point Mugu.  Jack Hansen and Ray went to Point Mugu with the two-plane detachment and flew recon in EastPac.  VW-1 was decommissioned in 1971 as part of the general DoD reshuffle of resources known as the McNamara era.


This dissertation ends appropriately with the simple statement that technology took over.  Typhoon recon by aircraft went away as meteorological satellites, numerical weather prediction, modern radars and refined instrumentation over the oceans took over and changed the world of the Aerographer and Aerographer’s Mate.  It was quite a ride.



Halsey’s Typhoons; Geo F Kosco & H. C. Adamson

Typhoon: The Other Enemy; C. Raymond Calhoun

Nimitz; E. B. Potter

America ’s Weather Warriors; Chas C Bates


Submitted by CDR Don Cruse USN RET