Flying into a hurricane might be the stuff of nightmares for the average person, but for Devon Meister ’14 MBA, it’s just another day on the job.
A meteorologist and pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Meister routinely flies a WC-130J into the heart of some of nature’s biggest storms, where the best data can be collected and used to help save lives.
But nothing prepared her for the danger of her first hurricane mission.
Flying at night, Meister and the crew were headed toward Hurricane Rafael in 2012. But because meteorologists have limited ability to analyze satellite data during darkness, there was no way to predict what happened next. The wind shifted suddenly from a 90-knot crosswind to a 90-knot tailwind. People in the back of the aircraft reported it felt like they had stopped moving forward and were suspended in midair.
Suddenly, the plane lost a lot of lift and airspeed, even though the throttles were all the way up. Although the radar showed an interesting notch of dry air shaped like a V, there were no other indications of dangerous weather, she recalls.
The autopilot tilted the nose of the aircraft upward in an attempt to maintain altitude, but this maneuver flooded both engines on the right side with water from the heavy rains, forcing the right wing to dip down suddenly. The aircraft commander took control and pointed the nose down, trading altitude for airspeed.
“We immediately maneuvered into the center of the eye, which provided calm weather conditions and gave the crew time to understand what was happening,” Meister says. “After further analysis following the flight, meteorologists determined we flew too close to a mesocyclone, which is like a tornado in a hurricane.”
Even after surviving a tornado in a hurricane, Meister calmly regards her job as a “controlled risk.”
“The Air Force taught me one of the most important skills is grit,” says Meister. “I may not be the most talented individual in a field, but a never-give-up attitude pushes me to develop the skills needed to get the job done and, most importantly, not let my team down.”
Meister applied that same resolve, while serving her country and raising a son on her own, to earn an executive MBA quickly through WSU’s online program. Its business plan component gave her the foundation to launch her own nutrition and fitness business.
“The program allowed me to remain mobile,” she says. “I accomplished assignments fro,m New York, Hawaii, St. Croix, Washington D.C., Florida, California, Yellowstone National Park—and on airplanes everywhere in between.”
Meister recently became an aircraft commander. She plans to grow her business, and eventually work as an instructor pilot.