>> It's being described as one of the strongest Atlantic storms ever recorded. Hurricane Irma has killed at least 22 people so far, and left unimaginable destruction in its wake. Reuters' Philip Stewart joined a group of American Air Force Reservists to get as close to the action as possible.
>> We're gonna take this C1J aircraft right into Hurricane Irma. This plane is specially equipped to take all kinds of readings about the hurricane and send information right back to the National Hurricane Center to tell the US public where this storm is headed and where it might make landfall.
It is a specially equipped aircraft designed especially for the hurricane hunters. So if you look at there on the wings, you're gonna see that there are extra fuel tanks there that allow this plane to stay up in the air for 12, 13, 14, maybe even more hours in the air.
And there are sensors on top of one of the wings, a square pod that helps them detect basically how powerful that storm is. From the belly of the plane, they're going to drop these pods that are going to be able to detect wind speed and all kinds of meteorological data.
That's going to be beamed right back up to this airplane and then transmitted by satellite back to the National Hurricane Center.>> Pilot in the Aircraft Lieutenant Colonel Jim Hiterman, he's flown into 40 or 50 hurricanes in the last 22 years.>> I've flown enough of them to know you don't know what you got until you get into it.
>> Experts say U.S. satellite data simply can't do the job. The hard one information Hiterman collects is critical to the U.S. forecasts that save lives.>> When you're going through the eye wall it's much like driving a car into a car wash, because everything's white. You can't see anything out front.
So we're just flying off the instruments. And as you're going through that car wash, all of a sudden a bunch of gorillas start jumping up on top of your car.>> Experts say one day drones might eventually be able to do the risky job instead. For now though, this job was carried out almost entirely by Air Force reservists.
After a few days or weeks of chasing storms, they'll just return to their day jobs in the civilian world.