I read a question which asked whether planes fly over hurricanes, so my question is what would happen if a low-flying commercial plane tried to fly through a tornado.

Assume that it's traveling at cruise speed.

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    $\begingroup$ Even if we accept the idea that a jet airliner might be flying near a thunderstorm, such aircraft do not travel at full speed at the altitude where tornadoes occur. $\endgroup$
    – J Walters
    Dec 18 '16 at 4:10
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    $\begingroup$ Lots of bad stuff. Flying at cruise speed at that altitude alone is enough to cause bad stuff, even without the tornado and other various bad things associated with the supercell that spawned the tornado. The degree of bad stuff caused by the tornado itself would highly depend on the tornado. EF-0 would probably add a bit of turbulence for a second or two. One of those crazy half-mile-wide wedge-shaped EF-5s would probably rip the aircraft apart and distribute pieces of it over the next several miles of its track. $\endgroup$
    – reirab
    Dec 18 '16 at 5:38
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    $\begingroup$ Why would you want to commit multiple omicide? $\endgroup$ Dec 18 '16 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ There have been quite a few midair collisions involving a Tornado. In all cases neither aircraft survived. It typically involves the tornado flying through the other plane, not vice versa. I'll get my coat... $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 18 '16 at 19:03
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    $\begingroup$ Most pilots have to learn about the weather before they get their pilot's certificate/license. Part of learning about weather is learning about avoiding weather, and paying attention to Weather Warnings and Severe Weather Warnings, and updates. The assumption that a pilot would try to fly through a tornado, on purpose, when Severe Turbulence is Thunderstorms is generally avoided, and a Tornado makes Sever Turbulence look like a zephyr of wind, is puzzling. What research did you do before asking this question? $\endgroup$ Dec 19 '16 at 17:21

It depends on the strength of the tornado and other variables, but in most cases, a plane Vs tornado will end very very badly for the aircraft and its occupants in a low altitude high speed scenario.

A good example would be the NLM CityHopper Flight 431, a Fokker F-28 that flew into a thunderstorm 8 minutes into takeoff and crashed after the wing was torn off. From the summary of accident report at aviationsafety.net:

At 17:12 the aircraft entered a tornado, which resulted in loads on the airframe increasing to +6.8 G and -3,2 G. The right wing was bent upwards followed by a severe downward sweep. This compromised the structural integrity of the wing, causing a large portion of the outer wing to separate in an upward and rearward motion. Control was lost and the aircraft impacted a railway bridge inverted.

Everyone abroad the aircraft perished. FAA is pretty blunt about flying near one:

Pilots should observe the following rules for any flight routed even potentially near actual or possible thunderstorm activity:

• Avoid all thunderstorms.

And also,

Although pilots have flown through limited state thunderstorms with little or no damage to the aircraft or passengers, these pilots should consider themselves extremely fortunate to be alive.

(emphasis original).

Note: I've used both thunderstorms and tornadoes here. weather.about.com defines them as:

Thunderstorm: A storm (produced by a cumulonimbus cloud) that includes rain showers, lightning, and thunder.

Tornado: A violently rotating column of air that extends down from the base of a thunderstorm to the ground.

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    $\begingroup$ The energy contained in even a small thunderstorm is staggering. I have been in one. It is not a place for airplanes. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Dec 18 '16 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @acpilot Just out of curiosity, what on earth were you doing there? $\endgroup$
    – aeroalias
    Dec 18 '16 at 16:45
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    $\begingroup$ A 24 year old low time freight pilot will take risks that older pilots in better paying jobs will not. Basically, it boils down to the idea that lowtimers will gamble just about anything for that first 1000hr of turbine PIC. Green and yellow returns, by the way, can be more violent that red and flashing purple. $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Dec 18 '16 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ @acpilot bag of luck vs bag of experience comes to mind. $\endgroup$
    – DeltaLima
    Dec 18 '16 at 19:07
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    $\begingroup$ Agree. That job filled my bag of experience with some gems. Also, I made $144 that day! Totally worth it! $\endgroup$
    – acpilot
    Dec 18 '16 at 19:14

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