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John Wheeler, Published October 28 2012

Weather Talk: Project’s pilots gathered thunderstorm knowledge

Sixty-five years ago this fall, one of the most important projects in the history of meteorological science was coming to a close.

The Thunderstorm Project, conducted during the warm-weather seasons of 1946 and 1947, made use of P-61C radar-equipped airplanes supplied by the Air Force. Military pilots flew in, around and through as many thunderstorms as possible, taking measurements. Additional measurements were gathered using weather balloons and large ground-based radar.

The 10 planes spent a total of 70 hours inside thunderstorms, and despite 21 lightning strikes and countless cases of hail damage, there were no crashes. A tremendous amount of knowledge was gained about the structure of thunderstorms, but perhaps the most important bit of information picked up was that refitted aircraft radar could actually be useful in detecting weather.

Each of the pilots, along with other crew members, received the Distinguished Flying Cross for their efforts.

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