NASA Research Aircrafts

    Three main aircraft are used by NASA for atmospheric chemistry research.  They are:




NASA ER-2 Aircraft

     This airplane - a civilian variant of the U-2 reconnaissance plane capable of reaching altitudes as high as 70,00 feet (twice as high as a commercial airliner) - carries into the stratosphere dozens of scientific instruments that measure the composition of Earth's ozone layer.  The only person on board is the pilot, who must wear a pressurized spacesuit to guard against the dangers of high-altitude flight.  The instruments must be capable of obtaining measurements in a completely autonomous fashion because the pilot focuses only on flying the aircraft.  JPL scientists have built the ALIAS, MTP, and Laser Hygrometer instruments that fly on the ER-2.     
    Data from this aircraft has played a crucial role in demonstrating that chlorine derived from the decomposition of CFCs causes ozone depletion at mid-latitudes and polar regions.  This photograph was taken on 4 July 1997 just prior to landing at Ft. Wainwright Army Base, Fairbanks, Alaska.

Click Here for more info on the ER-2

Click Here for NASA Dryden Photo Gallery of the ER-2




NASA DC-8 Aircraft

     Scientists at JPL also fly instruments aboard NASA's DC-8 research aircraft, which is used to study both tropospheric and stratospheric ozone.  In contrast to the ER-2, this research plane carries a team of scientists into the upper troposphere and lowermost stratosphere.  The interior of the plane resembles a scientific research facility.  Again in contrast to the ER-2 (whose instruments must work autonomously), many of the DC-8 instruments are operated in a "hands on" approach by the investigators.  The JPL Laser Hygrometer and Microwave Temperature Profiler flew aboard the DC-8 during the recently completed SOLVE campaign that studied Arctic ozone depletion.  One of the most unusual aspects of a 9 hour flight aboard the DC-8 is getting off the airplane at exactly the same place as boarding!  JPL scientists have circled both the north and south poles aboard the DC-8 and recently flew over St. Petersburg, Russia during SOLVE.

Click Here for the NASA Dryden Photo Gallery of the DC-8



NASA WB-57 Aircraft

       Scientists at JPL also fly instruments aboard NASA's WB-57 aircraft, which is used to study the hydrological cycle and the interactions of clouds, aerosols, chemistry, and climate in the upper troposphere and lower stratosphere.  This plane reaches altitudes nearly as high as the ER-2.  Its design allows for a mission manager to accompany the pilot on scientific flights.  The mission manager sits behind the pilot.  The JPL Microwave Temperature Profiler, Laser Hygrometer, and WISP instruments have flown aboard the WB-57 for the Accent '99 mission.


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Author: Ross J. Salawitch
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