GUTHRIE — The Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport is playing host to a very special aircraft. Right now it's a fighter jet, but it's being modified to do something very different.The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a fighter jet currently used in places like Afghanistan and Kuwait. However, the one sitting in Guthrie is training to be a storm chaser."It's not built for speed, said A-10 Aircraft Program Manager and Crew Chief Vince Schneider. "It was built to loiter and stay over top of the battle field to protect the army."The A-10 Schneider is working on is retired from active duty, but is getting a new life as a storm penetrating aircraft. The jet will hunt down tornadoes and hurricanes, capturing crucial information."The mission of this aircraft is to get close to the storm," said Schneider.It's a $13 million project funded by the National Science Foundation. Zivko Aeronautics in Guthrie was chosen to make the project a reality. Schneider is in charge of retrofitting the new technology into the aircraft's old body.A computer server system will be installed where the weapons system used to be. The system will use sensors on the wings to detect things like wind speed, pressure and movement of a storm. The information is then sent to researchers working on the ground."So they'll get real time, first-hand knowledge of whatever it is they want to sample," Schneider said.The A-10 will be equipped to release small sensors into the storm, similar to what was done in the movie "Twister". The only difference is the sensors will be released from above the storm instead of below it."We're actually going to drop ours out of the wing tips and the wheel pods," said Schneider.It will take a lot of hard work to equip the Thunderbolt II for its new assignment, but if it helps keep the public safer in the process, Schneider says it's a mission worth accomplishing."The benefit is to the Air Force. The benefit is to the scientific community. The benefit is to the civilian community, a lot of benefits here," Schneider said.Schneider says it's likely universities like OSU, OU and others will use the aircraft to gather research. The hope is that the information will give researchers a better idea of how storms move so we can alert the public quicker and more accurately. The project is expected to be finished by the end of the summer.
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