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​An A-10C, shown here at Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport, Okla., is undergoing the transformation into an up-armored, thunderstorm-penetrating weather research platform for the National Science Foundation. National Science Foundation photo


—Arie Church


July 7, 2014—
A small team is converting a former Air Force A-10C airplane into an up-armored, thunderstorm-penetrating weather research platform.

The National Science Foundation is funding the Naval Post Graduate School's $13 million project to modify and demilitarize the aircraft at a small airport north of Oklahoma City.

"I think we're probably more than a year from flying the airplane in its new mode," Robert Bluth, director of NPS' Center for Interdisciplinary Remotely Piloted Aircraft Studies, told Air Force Magazine in a June interview.

Once the A-10 officially transfers from the Air Force and modifications and certification are complete, CIRPAS will operate the NSF-owned platform. The aircraft will have a pilot in the cockpit for the weather research and will not fly via a remote pilot.

While the A-10 "is designed to survive quite a bit," it will require additional protection to operate within thunderstorms, said Bluth.

"What we're doing right now is setting it up to fly in that environment," he said.

This includes armoring the leading edges and control surfaces, "replacing anything on the airplane" that is vulnerable to hail, and adding a system to prevent icing on the flight surfaces and engine nacelles, he said.

Contractors are also removing the A-10's 30 mm cannon; in its place, they're installing a second electrical system.

For flight safety reasons "we don't want to tap into the aircraft's system to operate the science payload, so we'll build a separate power system that's going to run off the gun-hydraulic system," said Bluth.

With the exception of certain probes, the A-10's cloud sampling and atmospheric measurement equipment will be mounted in external pods, easing future payload changes.

The 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., began refurbishing a retired A-10A for this project, but changed course when a newer A-10C became available.

"It would have been the only A-model A-10 flying," 309th AMARG spokeswoman Terry Pittman told Air Force Magazine. "The primary reason for switching … was supportability, both in maintenance and operations," she explained.

The A-10C, serial No. 80-0212, came from Davis-Monthan's 354th Fighter Squadron. The A-10A returned to the Air Force's aircraft boneyard at Davis-Monthan, said Pittman.