NASA ER-2 high-altitude Earth science aircraft No. 806 recently concluded a six-week deployment in the MC3E mission over Nebraska and Oklahoma. Flight operations in the Mid-latitude Continental Convective Cloud Experiment (MC3E) ended recently with the return of NASA's ER-2 high-altitude environmental science aircraft No. 806 to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, Calif.
The ER-2 flew a total of 14 science flights totaling more than 73 flight hours from Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., during the six-week deployment. Most of the data was collected over target areas of northern and central Oklahoma. The instrument payload was quickly removed following the aircraft's return to NASA's Palmdale facility, and science flights with a new payload were set to begin on the aircraft just a week after the aircraft's return.
The MC3E mission focused on convective cloud and precipitation processes that included the observation and measurement of the entire process as it occurs from the ice that forms near the top of the clouds to the rain that falls to the ground. Acting as a satellite simulator, the ER-2 carried instruments that sampled the entire column of atmosphere below the aircraft to verify that the data collected produce a consistent summary of precipitation physics and improve the accuracy of future satellite instruments.
Encased in his bulky high-altitude pressure suit, NASA ER-2 pilot Tom Ryan climbs out of the cockpit after a MC3E mission flight, assisted by Dryden technician Wason "Haku" Miles. (Contributed) The MC3E study, co-sponsored by the Department of Energy and NASA, was conducted in support of the planned Global Precipitation Measurement, or GPM, mission. When launched in 2013, the mission will use an international constellation of satellites to study global rain, snow and ice to aid in better understanding Earth's climate, weather and hydro-meteorological processes.
MC3E Mission Scientist Walt Peterson said that a good variety of cloud conditions were measured and that he appreciated the team's flexibility in adapting to a dynamic situation where the nature of the flight plan, the duration of the flight, and the take-off time could not be determined until just hours before the arrival of the target weather.
"We are very grateful to (NASA Dryden's ER-2 mission management) for the efforts you and the rest of your ER-2 crew put forward to make MC3E what seems to have been a pretty successful field campaign," Peterson added.
Operationally, the ER-2 aircraft and crew could not have had a better host than the 55th Wing at Offutt Air Force Base, according to mission manager Chris Miller of NASA Dryden's Science Mission Directorate.
A NASA high-altitude ER-2 is silhouetted against clear skies as it descends for landing. Two "superpods," each capable of carrying a 650-pound instrument payload, are affixed to the aircraft's wings. (NASA / Tony Landis) "The wing provided hangar and office facilities, lab and life support space, ground support equipment, Internet access, and excellent local weather support," Miller said. "Offutt's proximity to the Department of Energy's Oklahoma Atmospheric Radiation Measurement Climate Research Facility allowed quick transit times and, for most part, kept the ER-2 base of operations away from the sometimes extreme weather being targeted."
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