NASA Research Aircrafts
Three main aircraft are used by NASA for atmospheric chemistry research. They are:
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.
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
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.
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
Page Design: Aaron B. Milam