Science 11 November 2011:
Vol. 334 no. 6057 p. 747
News & Analysis
NSF to Turn Tank Killer Into Storm Chaser
On the battlefields of Iraq, the U.S. military's A-10 Thunderbolt jet was a fearsome tank killer able to survive punishing hits from antiaircraft fire. Now, one retired Thunderbolt is taking on a new scientific mission that fits its nickname. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has given a $10.9 million grant to a U.S. Navy university to transform the warplane into an aircraft capable of withstanding stomach-churning winds, pounding hail, and lightning strikes as it probes the heart of heavy weather. The grant, made 23 September, caps a 6-year effort to replace a propeller-driven T-28 military trainer that was grounded in 2005 after 35 years of storm chasing.
Live Chat: The Science of Storm Chasing
by David Malakoff on 16 November 2011, 12:13 PM
A flash of lightning, a clap of thunder. Big storms have long inspired awe, fear—and a lot of scientific interest. Now, researchers are getting an unusual new tool to probe severe weather: A retired warplane best known for destroying tanks on the battlefield. In September, the U.S. National Science Foundation announced that it will spend about $13 million to convert an A-10 Thunderbolt jet fighter into a next-generation storm penetrator. The heavily-armored aircraft will lug a suite of high-tech instruments into the hearts of storms to study everything from how hail and lightning form to mysterious bursts of high-energy gamma rays. What are some capabilities this new plane will have that its predecessor didn't? Will it help scientists learn to identify killer storms before they strike? And why, in the age of high-tech satellites and super-sharp radar, do we need to risk a pilot's life flying into a storm at all?
Join us for a live chat about the new storm penetrator and the science it will enable at 3 p.m. EST on Thursday, 17 November, on this page. You can leave your questions in the comment box below before the chat starts.
Warplane Goes From Tank Killer to Storm Chaser
Nov 15, 2011 02:01 PM ET
One of the military's feared tank killers, the A-10 Thunderbolt, will soon start its new career as a storm chaser.
The retired plane is getting a $13 million scientific makeover so that it can fly though some of nature's biggest storms and withstand hail and lightning strikes, reported Science magazine (Subscription required). Also known as the Warthog, the Thunderbolt is not the prettiest plane, but it will gather data that will be beautiful in the eyes of storm-chasing scientists.
The Thunderbolt will replace a T-28 military trainer that retired in 2005 after 35 years chasing storms. That plane was limited by the number of instruments it could carry, and the retro-fitted Thunderbolt will carry more instruments. It will also fly higher and linger in storms longer. The plane's 30-millimeter cannon will be dismounted and replaced with scientific instruments. "Hard points" under the wings will carry sensors and instruments instead of bombs and missiles.
The U.S. Navy's Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., will acquire and operate the Thunderbolt. Former A-10 pilots will command the planes into the heart of the storms.
Severe weather scientists have other ways to see inside a storm from afar — weather balloons and storm skirting aircraft — but the best data is found in the heart of the bad weather.
"You really have to go right into the storm to get the most useful data," meteorologist Terry Schuur told Science. Schuur works at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, Oklahoma.
The National Science Foundation, which is funding the conversion, expects to have the planes back in the sky by 2013.
Question: Has been this A-10 already selected or acquired? If yes, anybody who can tell me it's serial number? By the way: I remember an older proposal, made by the U.S. Forestry Servive, to purchase two A-10s and modifying them as water bombers to fight forest fires.