Saturday, January 17, 2009

Really Cool Scientific Airplane

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) operates a Gulfstream V mid-altitude jet aircraft primarily to conduct National Science Foundation (NSF) sponsored atmospheric research. This aircraft is known as the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (HIAPER), or GV. The GV has unique capabilities that set it apart from other research aircraft. It can reach 51,000 feet, enabling scientists to collect data at the tops of storms and the lower edge of the stratosphere. With a range of about 7,000 miles, it can track atmospheric particles across the oceans or reach the South Pole from bases in South America or New Zealand.

We were lucky enough to be in American Samoa as the GV came through during Phase I of the Pole-to-Pole Observations. The “Collaborative Research: HIAPER Pole-to-Pole Observations (HIPPO) of Carbon Cycle and Greenhouse Gases Study” will measure cross sections of atmospheric concentrations approximately pole-to-pole, from the surface to the tropopause, five times during different seasons over a three year period. According to the National Center for Atmospheric Research, a comprehensive suite of atmospheric trace gases pertinent to understanding the Carbon Cycle will be measured. HIPPO will transect the mid-Pacific ocean and return either over the Eastern Pacific, or over the Western Atlantic. The program will provide the first comprehensive, global survey of atmospheric trace gases, covering the full troposphere in all seasons and multiple years. This was the first of those five times and it flew the following missions:
  • Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, CO, USA -> Anchorage, AK, USA
  • Anchorage, AK to the North Pole (up to 85 degrees North) round trip
  • Anchorage, AK, USA -> Honolulu, HI, USA
  • Honolulu, HI, USA -> Pago Pago, American Samoa
  • Pago Pago, American Samoa -> Christchurch, NZ
  • Christchurch, NZ -> South Pole (up to 67 degrees South) round trip
  • Christchurch, NZ -> Papeete, Tahiti
  • Papiete, Tahiti -> Easter Island, Chile
  • Easter Island, Chile -> San Jose, CR
  • San Jose, CR -> Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport, CO, USA

This route is 27,760 miles (24,200 nautical miles) long and will take 21 days.

Above is me after checking out the inside. Because of all the scientific equipment on board, only a couple of us could go inside at a time to check it out. Below is Simon in the cockpit getting to check things out from the pilot's perspective:
Pavel Romashkin, our tour guide, describes what types of scientific data the G-V collects in its Pole to Pole Observations:
There was quite a large group of us there to tour the plane. Science is cool!
Here, Pavel shows us how the nose of the plane has been retrofitted to collect atmospheric data through highly sophisiticated sensors during flight:
The various instruments and sensors that were affixed to the jet make this a cutting-edge observational platform that will meet the scientific needs of researchers who study many different areas such as Chemistry and Climate, Chemical Cycles, Studies of the Upper Troposphere/Lower Stratosphere, Air Quality, and Mesoscale Weather.

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