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Abstract

Dust storms, or haboobs, can have a significant effect on military operations in arid regions. Not only does dust cause maintenance problems and slow offensive ground operations, but it can also substantially disrupt air operations. This paper presents a historic vignette of how a dust storm contributed to the failure of Operation Eagle Claw, the mission undertaken to rescue U.S. hostages in Iran in 1980. The flight crews that were involved in that mission encountered a dust storm that was likely generated by thunderstorm activity in the Zagros Mountains of Iran. Weather forecasters were aware that dust storms were a possibility in the region, but they did not forecast haboobs. The pilots were expecting clear weather and had no contingency plans to cope with the adverse weather conditions. The dust storm caused confusion, slowed the helicopters, and greatly increased pilot fatigue. These factors appeared to have contributed to mission failure, and, as a result, the U.S. military later implemented many improvements in mission planning, pilot training, and weather forecasting techniques to manage the risk associated with operations in areas where dust storms are likely.

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