Science: Tornado Pilot

Pilots of sound mind normally give tornadoes plenty of airspace. The tall clouds that spawn twisters are boiling with turbulence, and the black funnels themselves can tear an airplane to shreds. Pilot James M. Cook, 6 ft. 3 in. and slow-spoken, is thoroughly sane, but whenever a threatening cloud shows its face in the Middle West, he hops into his war-surplus Mustang at Kansas City and takes the cloud's pulse and temperature, even if it is crawling with vicious twisters.

Storm Buster. Cook, 34, learned to fly at 14 and soloed at 15. Last year, while dusting crops in the Nebraska panhandle,...

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