October 29, 2015
By Suzanne Maher
WEATHER ON DEMAND: MAKING IT RAIN IS A GLOBAL BUSINESS
“Most pilots are trained to avoid these storm systems,” shouts Byron Pederson. “We’re trained to enter them.” He’s flying a King Air B200 prop jet above Maharashtra, India, toward a dense, bruise-colored monsoon cloud more than 20,000 feet from top to bottom. He dips a wing, Top Gun-style, as he circles the cumulonimbus. “Bank alert!” warns a computerized female voice from the control panel. Pederson calls her Bitchin’ Betty for all the scolding she does as he defies the generally accepted rules of aviation.
Four of us are crammed inside the tiny plane, and the air smells like stress and sweat. Pederson’s in the cockpit with Shahzad Mistry, the rookie co-pilot he’s training; I’m seated a few feet behind them, trying not to vomit on the fridge-size computer to my right that’s humming and blinking as it records meteorological data. To my left is Prakash Koliwad, chief executive officer of Kyathi Climate Modification Consultants, the cloud-seeding company based in Bangalore that commissioned this flight.
The view outside my window goes smoky gray as Pederson maneuvers the King Air inside a dark layer of heavy moisture along the cloud’s underbelly. The plane lurches and shakes. “We’re in,” says Pederson. The Vertical Speed Indicator on the dashboard climbs. We’ve entered the “updraft,” a shaft of wind at the center of all storm clouds that’s sucking the plane upward at a rate of 800 feet per minute. I can barely lift my hands—the G-force is pinning them to my lap.
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