While most of the eastern seaboard of the United States was bracing for Hurricane Hermine, a group of airmen headed straight for the eye of the storm.

Hurricane hunters with the Air Force Reserve's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron fought nearly 70 mph winds Sept. 1 to gather critical data on the storm for the National Hurricane Center.

Their WC-130J can measure wind speed, air pressure and storm rotation, in part by dropping special sensor equipment, called dropsondes, out of the plane.

And the closer the plane gets to the ocean, the better the data.

"We stay as low as we safely can," said Lt. Col. Jeff Ragusa, the plane's commander, in a news release. This time the aircraft flew at 5,000 feet above the ocean's surface.

According to Ragusa, only 12 planes in the world are rated for flying in the most severe areas of a hurricane, and the 53rd WRS – based out of Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. – has 10 of them.

The data provided by the mission helped meteorologists decide to upgrade Hermine from a tropical storm to a Category 1 hurricane.

"These missions are important because they increase the accuracy of a forecast by 20-30 percent," Tech. Sgt. Tom Barnby, a loadmaster with the 53rd WRS, said in a statement.

In June, Air Force Times reporter Oriana Pawlyk got a chance to fly onboard a WC-130J in calm skies.

"After you've done this a few times, it's more exciting than scary ... but still scary," said Staff Sgt. Jesse Jordan, a 53rd WRS loadmaster.

Maj. Brad Roundtree, a pilot with the 53rd WRS, said flying into such heavy winds presents airmen with a different type of fight.

"Once you get into the storm environment, there's still a lot of things you've got to worry about," he said. "The safety of the crew, the safety of the aircraft. You've got to make sure you make it through the eye and back in one piece, and it's kind of the same thing in combat."

After drenching the Gulf Coast and the Southeast, Hermione was expected to skirt along the East Coast into the Labor Day weekend, and possibly beyond, with coastal flooding, high surf and beach erosion, according to the National Weather Service. Tropical storm watches have been issued from the Delaware and New Jersey coasts to Long Island, New York City and southern Connecticut.

The National Weather Service estimates there could be anywhere from two to 10 inches of rain dropped along coastal areas.

Reporter Oriana Pawlyk contributed to this report.