Tom Warner flew B-1's for the Air Force and was a T-38 Instructor. He is also a meteorologist, currently researching high speed lightning at SDSM&T.
"When Charlie asked if I wanted to fly the aircraft, I told him I would love to and for me it was truly a dream job of a lifetime. Since it was a state job, it had to be posted. I, along with one other person were the only two to apply. When Charlie called the other applicant and explained the job and flying environment in more detail, the other person withdrew his application.
Charlie and I talked for about 3 hours while I sat in the cockpit. I then took the plane up for my first flight. I was solo because there was no back seat. It was a rather easy plane to fly, but it had a few handling quirks because of the weight and "less-than-aerodynamic" weather instruments.
When we penetrated a storm, we used the alternate air source which pulled air from inside the engine cowling, thus bypassing the normal air intake that would frequently ice up. Since we operated in a high humidity environment, we also had to add alcohol to the carburetor to avoid induction icing. Alcohol was also sprayed on the propeller.
It is important to point out that both Charlie and I felt that
every time we penetrated storms, we reinforced the idea that a thunderstorm is no place for an airplane. No other plane in the world could survive in the environment we flew in, and it was only because of the armor plating (to withstand hail up to 3 inches in diameter), structural reinforcement and bullet proof canopy that enabled us to return safely each mission.
Charlie used to say, "The aircraft knows how to get through a thunderstorm, you just have to stay with the aircraft." For us, it was about keeping the right side up and the engine running. Some storms made this quite challenging."
- Tom Warner
Tom flew the armored T-28 from 2000-2003 during the
last years of the project. At that time there were three primary pilots; Chief Pilot, Charlie Summers, Tom Root
and Tom Warner. Over the entire course of the research only nine pilots flew the T-28. It takes a unique pilot to have the courage to fly into a thunderstorm, not once
but numerous times during each mission with extreme turbulence and loud cacophony noise from hail and lightning.
Flight operations were conducted between 18,000 to 21,000 feet ideal for OAT supecooled at -10c. The mobile radar unit and ground crew communicated to the pilots what headings to fly. Once the cell was penetrated, the technique was to maintain a safe range of airspeed between 140-150 indicated and not worry about holding a hard altitude. Strong up and down drafts could change altitude easily 2000' or more. There was no de-icing on the wing, if ice started accumulating they would descend to melt it or intentionally fly into known hail to beat the ice off. Flights were approximately one hour due to higher than normal fuel burn from the armor weight and less than ideal aerodynamics from the attached instruments.
"Flying into the core of a thunderstorm
- there's nothing like it."
Tom Warner, T-28 pilot & weather researcher.
Helen Murphy © 2009-2017 All Rights Reserved
Click on top photo to visit Tom's site Zeus' Tantrums for the complete collection of his stunning photographs.