Kansas City, Mo., pilot Caleb Elliott broke what many pilots consider a cardinal rule and he said he hopes to continue doing it for the rest of the tornado season. He and fellow storm chaser Skip Talbot, along with videographer Phil Bates, spent three days at the end of May trying to get as close as they could to tornado-generating super cells in a Cessna 182 piloted by Elliott. "I definitely don't recommend that anyone do this," Elliott said in a podcast interview. He said he's been chasing storms on the ground for almost 20 years and understands how they work, and that's how he and his passengers were able to get as close as a mile to monster cells capable of forming tornadoes without having their aircraft torn apart. Elliott says he hopes to do more flights to help broaden the knowledge of aerial encounters with big storms so pilots can learn how to survive inadvertent encounters with them. Although they never saw a tornado from the air, all the elements for their creation were present in the storms they probed.
The trio crisscrossed the tornado hotbeds of South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas in their hunt for the most dangerous weather. Elliott said the advantage of aerial storm chasing is that it's a lot faster to get to the storms by air, which means a dedicated chaser can visit multiple storms on the same day. He said most pilots know little about severe weather other than to avoid it and he's hoping his weekend work (he flies freight for a living) will get more knowledge to pilots. And in case anyone is wondering, the FAA recommends pilots stay at least 20 miles from thunderstorms, but Elliott said there are no rules against it. In one case, he said, an air traffic controller said he was "crazy" but gave him vectors to get to the storm.