The A-10 Thunderbolt, also known as the Warthog, flies over military missions overseas. Now, one of the air force's "flying guns" has landed in Guthrie to take on a new mission -- inside Oklahoma storms.
The A10 thunderbolt is considered one of the most potent arsenals in the military.
"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, Zivko Aeronautics Inc.
Originally designed to go into enemy territory - on of the military's warthogs has retired to Guthrie - with a new mission on the horizon.
"It's never been done on an A-10," said Schneider.
But Schneider and his team at Zivko are tasked with converting the retired jet into the A-10 Storm Penetrating Aircraft -- a plane that will take on new hostilities - Oklahoma 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 Andy Detwiler, a scientist and professor of physics at the South Dakota School of Mines.
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 30,000-35,000 foot range where there's a lot of interesting physics to understand," Detwiler said.
With the guns 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 stone, all to help scientists understand storm life-cycles and better predict tornado outbreaks.
"We're doing it so we can understand more about how hail develops in a storm, how lightning develops, how tornadoes develop, all the different things that these storms contain," said Detwiler. "You need something inside the storm to actually close the gap and understand it completely."
The A-10 seems to be the perfect candidate to do just that. In fact, just two years ago, this A-10 was over in Afghanistan taking on gun and canon fire, so the experts are pretty confident it can handle an Oklahoma thunderstorm.
"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 about how storms develop with more missions to come.
"It would be capable doing fair weather clouds, smaller clouds, even clean air, you know, flying around fires, 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 storm research.
"To see it not going into the boneyard in the aircraft graveyard over there in Arizona, to actually see if have new life you know, it's great," said Schneider.
The approximately $13 million project is funded by the National Science Foundation. It will take about two years to complete the conversion. The plane is expected to start test flights in the spring of 2016 and then storm operations by 2017.