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TVN Dominator

The Storm Research Vehicle (SRV), a.k.a. The Dominator, is the ultimate storm chasing machine. The SRV was modified from last season's chase vehicle (2007 Chevy Tahoe) beginning in January 2009 with bulletproof sheet metal and transparent Lexan armor for protection against flying debris near tornadoes, as well as an external roll cage and NASCAR-style safety harnesses for the unlikely event of a vehicle roll. The SRV will allow to safely collect ground-breaking scientific data very close to strong tornadoes where few dare to venture. The goal of is not to drive into a tornado, but to collect scientific data and high resolution video very near to the tornado core flow where the strongest winds reside. The severe weather research tools deployed by the SRV are a roof-mounted single-beam radar (Close-Range Vertical Radar - CLOVER), wind monitor on the roof, and last year's 300 lb tornado probe, which will be used to measure the intense horizontal and vertical winds inside and immediately around the tornado core flow. A roof-mounted High Definition camera enclosed in a bullet-proof Lexan bubble will capture HD video of the fine-scale structure inside tornadoes, which can be aimed and focused from within the cockpit. In the event of winds exceeding 100 mph, the SRV has the ability to drop the entire armored frame to the ground with the flip of a switch though a state-of-the-art hydraulics system. When lowered to the ground, a rubber sheath around the base of the aerodynamic armor will prevent wind from flowing under the vehicle and causing a vehicle roll while collecting valuable data. The ideal storm chase scenario for the team would be to drive the SRV into the path of a strong slow-moving tornado, deploy the tornado probe in the path, then drive to the anticipated edge of the tornado core flow and drop the frame to the ground while recording vertical tornadic winds with CLOVER and horizontal winds with roof-mounted wind monitor and tornado probe.

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TVN RC Plane

The remote-controlled TVN "Super-Hauler" has a 12-foot wingspan and is capable of transporting 8-10 probes with parachutes attached.  The RC plane will then fly in the inflow region of the tornado and drop the probes so they're pulled into the circulation, where weather data and HD video inside the tornado will be recorded.

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The parachute probes are made of durable foam, and are capable of measuring temperature, barometric pressure, and dewpoint inside the tornado, as well as High-Definition video.  The probes are designed to be dropped from the TVN RC Plane, and pulled into the tornadic circulation by their parachutes, and contain gps tracking devices for recovery after deployment.

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Technical Specifications

-- Built by Bruce Tharpe (
-- Hand cut and hand built wood construction with MonoKote covering
-- 12' wingspan
-- Desert Air DA100 100cc Engine with Custom Mufflers by JTEC
-- 2 50oz. Fuel Tanks for ~1 hr of flight time
-- Vess Prop 27A
-- Futaba 10c Radio 2.4 Ghz – Plane ; Futaba 14c – Camera with Futaba R6014FS Recievers
-- Futaba S9152 Digital Servos for Control Surfaces and a S3001 Analog servo for throttle
-- Electrodynamics EDR-111 Power Bus Pro and EDR107P Fiber Optic Kill Switch
-- NiCad Battery System
-- Plane Mounted GPS and Weather Probe with zigbee wireless. The same hardware used in the tornado parachute probes.
-- 8 tube custom built sequential probe drop mechanism using Futaba servo
-- Forward Camera – Sony CX12 HD Handycam
-- Rear Camera – ContourHD Helmet Cam mounted on vertical stabilizer
-- Plane does NOT have Autopilot or stabilization and is flown strictly by standard RC means. Chad Williams (the pilot) is just that good!

TVN Close-Range Vertical Radar (CLOVER)

The Close-Range Vertical Radar (CLOVER) is a single beam radar designed by Radiance Technologies, Inc. for the research team. The radar unit is attached to the right-rear part of the SRV's roof and is designed to measure the strong updraft winds inside and immediately surrounding the tornado core flow. These vertical tornadic winds can theoretically exceed the horizontal rotational winds, and have never been directly measured in the field. Designed by Radiance Technologies, Inc., this briefcase-sized single beam radar is highly durable and designed to withstand the harsh environments near supercell storms. The roof-mounted radar bracket allows for the beam to be oriented horizontally as well as vertically, so the CLOVER can also be used to measure horizontal tornado winds and estimate the strength of an approaching tornado. The stronger the tornado, the further away the SRV must be from the core flow to maintain safety. The CLOVER has a range of 5-10 km, which is sufficient to accomplish our research goals for the 2009 season, but a more extensive radar system is planned for the 2010 season.

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TVN Tornado Probe

The TVN Tornado Probe was designed in 2008 to capture high resolution video and weather data from inside tornadoes, including wind speed and direction, temperature, barometric pressure, and relative humidity. Weighing in at 300 pounds and equipped with a bullet-proof Lexan bubble to house the electronics, the TVN Tornado Probe can withstand the wind and debris from most tornadoes.

The motivation in adding an HD camcorder to the probe is to capture high quality video of the fine-scale structure within a tornado, and especially the multiple vortices that rotate within the parent vortex. The weather data retrieved by the TVN Tornado Probe will be used for research purposes and will hopefully help us better understand one of the most powerful natural phenomena on the planet. The video at right outlines the components of the probe and shows the deployment process as a damaging tornado was bearing down on us in Northern Kansas on May 29, 2008. Check out the video archive below which includes footage from all our successful TVN Tornado Probe intercepts! Hopefully we will continue to build on this footage and data archive for years to come, as we combine our passion for getting close to violent tornadoes with ground-breaking scientific research.

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Tornado Probe Introduction

First Intercept - May 29, 2008