Elliott is a commercial pilot and is a certified flight instructor, among a long list of other certifications. He started training for his pilot's license at age 12. ("Part of the reason I got my pilot's license is so I could be up closer to the weather," Elliott said. "Aerial storm chasing is the direction I've always wanted to go.") He flies cargo planes full time and understands how many ways a thunderstorm can bring a plane down.
A horrible experience piloting a plane through a line of thunderstorms back in 2008 steeled Elliott's resolve to learn how to handle the atmosphere's violence.
"It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life," the pilot said. "I didn't think I was coming out of the other side."
Though the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recommends pilots fly no closer than 20 miles to a severe thunderstorm, a fellow "freight dog" taught Elliott how to deal with flying near unexpected severe weather.
"A thunderstorm packs just about every weather hazard known to aviation into one vicious bundle," a document from the FAA reads. "Almost any thunderstorm can spell disaster for the wrong combination of aircraft and pilot."
Elliott and Talbot have flown as close as one mile to a supercell. The recommendation to stay at least 20 miles away from storms is "greater than 20 years old," Elliott countered. "We know so much more about thunderstorms [now] that it is no longer really applicable... Part of the reason I want to do aerial storm chasing is to increase aeronautical knowledge of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes."
From a meteorologist's perspective, there is some value to aerial storm chasing flights.
"Looking at their footage, I realize there's a lot about storms that we can't see from the ground," AccuWeather meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said. "I think aerial storm research will be important for the future of meteorology -- if we can do it safely."
From AccuWeather.com (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.