The SPAV designs were required to meet several standards. Each aircraft needed to be able to take off from a traditional road, fit inside a standard flat-bed trailer, take off and land in 22 MPH winds, with gusts of up to 28 MPH, fly for at least four hours at 5,000 feet without refueling and carry at least one, if not multiple, dropsondes, into the weather system.
Dropsondes are cylinders full of sensors that are dropped or carried into storms using weather balloons or aircraft. Once in the storm, the sensors collect and transmit data about temperature, humidity, wind speed and wind direction.
Remember the scene in "Twister" where the DOROTHY contraption (a replica of National Severe Storm Laboratory's own TOTO) is finally deployed in the tornado? The dropsonde sensors are quite similar to the sensors in the movie. But the real fiction is this: storm chasers could never get as close to a tornado as they did in the movie. I recall Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt's characters being in the vortex of two twisters. Who on Earth survives that two times? Thus a safer method - one that doesn't involve risking human life - is in order, an order that OSU students hope to fulfill.