Advanced research aircraft to arrive at Colorado facility this week

March 09, 2005

A new aircraft with exceptional research capabilities is scheduled to arrive at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colo., this Friday. Known as HIAPER (High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research), the $81.5 million aircraft will serve the environmental research needs of the National Science Foundation, (NSF), NCAR's primary sponsor and owner of the aircraft, for the next several decades

HIAPER, which is scheduled to begin research missions later in 2005, will provide scientists with insights into the atmosphere and Earth's natural systems. A modified Gulfstream V jet, the aircraft can fly at an altitude of 51,000 feet and has a range of 7,000 miles. It can carry 5,600 pounds of sensing equipment, putting it at the forefront of scientific discovery.

"HIAPER's range, duration, and high-altitude capability, combined with a significant scientific payload, make it the most advanced aircraft research platform in the United States," says James Huning, HIAPER program director at NSF.

"The arrival of HIAPER ushers in a new era of environmental research opportunity for NCAR and for the entire geosciences community," says Krista Laursen, HIAPER project director at NCAR. "HIAPER will make it possible for scientists to study meteorological processes and environmental phenomena that are continental or nearly global in scale."

HIAPER will collect data from the tops of storms and lower edge of the stratosphere, altitudes out of reach of most research aircraft. The craft's range will enable scientists to survey remote ocean regions in a single flight to learn more about interactions between the oceans and atmosphere. Future missions include:

Following pollution plumes across continents and oceans to determine where pollutants originate and how they affect the atmosphere Studying hurricanes as they emerge Mapping Earth's surface with an array of remote sensors Flying through high-forming cirrus clouds to create vertical portraits of their physical and chemical properties The entire environmental sciences community will have access to the aircraft, says Huning. Researchers will begin taking HIAPER on local science missions based out of Jefferson County Airport in Colo. in the fall. These early missions will allow pilots and technicians to familiarize themselves with the plane. The flights will also give scientists an opportunity to test and showcase the plane's capabilities and perform some initial research.

"The best part of HIAPER is the 'H,' which stands for high-performance," says Jennifer Francis, an atmospheric scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey. "A research platform like HIAPER makes this an exciting time to be an atmospheric scientist."

In addition to NCAR, Gulfstream Aerospace Corporation, Lockheed Martin, and the Garrett Aviation Consulting Group have been involved in the development of HIAPER.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.47 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 40,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,000 new funding awards. The NSF also awards over $200 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

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