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How the Tornado Intercept Vehicle Works


Tank-Like Tripod
The TIV uses a Ford F-450’s dashboard, steering and transmission.
The TIV uses a Ford F-450’s dashboard, steering and transmission.
Photo courtesy George Kourounis

The TIV is essentially a large, mobile, armored tripod for an IMAX camera. Its purpose is to allow filmmakers to record footage from very close to -- or even inside of -- a tornado.

The TIV was originally a Ford F450 pickup truck. Its transformation into the TIV took three months of 7-day-a-week work. After stripping it down to its engine and chassis, Casey created a new frame and body out of steel, which uses:

  • 1/4" steel plate floors
  • A skeleton of 1/4" steel tubing and I-beams
  • 1/8" steel plates welded to the skeleton

Tires need to be accessible, yet protected from debris, so a hinged 1/8" steel flap covers each wheel well. Each of the four doors features a double layer of 1/8" steel plate. When closed, the doors lock into place with heavy steel bolts.

The TIV's side windows are 1/2" Lexan resin, a very strong plastic. For better visibility, its windshield is a scratch-resistant tempered glass and Lexan laminate.

The TIV’s side windows.
The TIV’s side windows.
Photo courtesy George Kourounis

Since the TIV's purpose is to provide a safe spot for filming, it has a special military-style turret to house the IMAX camera. The turret spins 360° on 3" steel bearings, allowing the crew to shoot footage in any direction. The TIV also has two hatches for smaller format cameras.

The completed TIV with rotating turret.
The completed TIV with rotating turret.
Photo courtesy Matt Crowther

Including its skeleton and frame, the TIV weighs almost 14,000 pounds. In spite of all this weight, it can reach up to 90 mph.

In the next section, we will look at the equipment inside the TIV.