A-10 Warthog To Take On Oklahoma's Thunderstorms
GUTHRIE, Oklahoma - The Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt II, better known as the Warthog, has earned a reputation for toughness over the years.
Now, one of the military's flying guns has landed in the Sooner state to take on a new mission - this one inside Oklahoma storms.
Its mission is to make forecasts more accurate and get lifesaving warnings out sooner.
The A-10 is considered one of the most potent weapons in the military.
2/5/2015 Related Story: WEB EXTRA: Getting To Know Oklahoma's Weather Warthog
“Its normal mission of course is to go overseas to root out the enemy, protect the army and bring the pilot back,” said Vince Schneider with Zivko Aeronautics Inc.
Originally designed as a flying tank, the A-10 has proven it can take punishment while protecting the pilot. This warthog has relocated to Guthrie, its new mission on the horizon.
“It's never been done on an A-10,” Schneider said.
He and his team at Zivko Aeronautics are tasked with converting the jet into the A-10 Thunderstorm, a plane that will take on new hostile opponents, Oklahoma's volatile thunderstorms.
“The idea is to get something into a storm to see things that you can't see from outside the storm using radar,” said scientist Andy Detwiler.
Detwiler has gathered weather data from airplanes before but never with an A-10.
“The airplane we used to operate could only get up to about 20,000 feet with all of the stuff we had on it and this A-10 has a lot better performance, so we can get up into the 30-35,000 foot range where there's a lot of interesting physics to understand,” he said.
With the gun removed and now armored with sensors, the plane will fly into the thunderstorms at around 35,000 feet to measure everything from cloud and rain drops to wind speeds and hail stones.
All to help scientists understand storm life-cycles and better predict tornado outbreaks.
Just two years ago, the A-10 was over in Afghanistan taking on gun and also cannon fire. I'm pretty sure it can handle hail and also the tough Oklahoma wind.
“They've been hail tested up to two, almost three inch hail balls and no damage whatsoever to the engines,” said Schneider.
Once scientists gather all the intelligence from the sensors, they hope to learn even more than just how storms develop with more missions to come.
“It would be capable doing, making measurements of the updrafts that develop when you have a big wildfire on the ground,” said Detwiler.
But for now, its prime mission is for storm research, making the storm season safer.
Schneider said, “Instead of the boneyard in the desert, it has new life as the storm penetrator.”
It will take about two years to complete the conversion.
The plane is expected to start test flights in the spring of next year and then storm operations by 2017.