On a rainy Sunday morning at Keflavik, Iceland, ground crew members load fuel aboard NASA's ER-2 research aircraft for a MABEL instrument validation flight over Greenland's ice cap. NASA / Chris Jennison) › View Larger Image
The April 8 path (shown in green) flown by NASA ER-2 on the first science flight of the MABEL mission. The aircraft departed its deployment base in Keflavik, Iceland, and flew to 83 degrees north and over northern Greenland's mountains, glaciers and sea ice. (NASA image) › View Larger Image
ER-2 pilot Stu Broce looks out the cockpit canopy window at northern Greenland during a MABEL science validation flight April 8. (NASA / Stu Broce) › View Larger Image
ER-pilot Stu Broce settles into the cockpit for the first science flight of the MABEL mission while Tim Williams, the second ER-2 pilot on the Iceland deployment, removes the cockpit access stand. (NASA / Chris Jennison) › View Larger Image NASA's ER-2 completed its first flight to validate the operation of a new laser altimeter named MABEL on Easter Sunday. The 8.8-hour science flight April 8 targeting north Greenland was accomplished due to relatively good weather over the ice shelf that surrounds Greenland's northern perimeter.
MABEL, an acronym for the Multiple Altimeter Beam Experiment Lidar, was developed at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center to simulate a similar instrument planned for NASA's IceSat-2 environmental satellite that is scheduled for launch in 2016.
Mission managers reported that most research instruments on board the high-altitude aircraft, including the Research Environment for Vehicle-Embedded Analysis on Linux (REVEAL) system, a digital camera system and MABEL, all functioned normally. The Cloud Physics Lidar instrument experienced intermittent power issues the last two hours of the flight.
REVEAL, developed by engineers at NASA Dryden, is a prototype next-generation tool for aerospace vehicle sensor webs and the future Earth Observation System.
NASA ER-2 pilot Stuart Broce reported that this was a long flight, but early data results looked positive.
"After two weeks of cold, wet weather and low visibility [in Iceland], it was wonderful to pop into sunshine very shortly after takeoff," said Broce. "The clouds hid the ocean all the way to the southeast coast of Greenland, then I couldn't differentiate between clouds and snow cap until I approached Baffin Bay on the northeast coast two hours later. There the featureless white terrain gave way to majestic views of mountains, glaciers and sea ice. The next four hours were nothing but crystal clear sky and arctic scenery as I made my way north.
"By the time I made it to 83 degrees, 54 minutes north, the northernmost point on the mission and the farthest north I've ever been, I'd already figured out that I was hundreds of miles away from anyone else on the planet," Broce added. "Despite the dangers of being alone in a single-engine jet, at 65,000 feet altitude in a pressure suit - and all the risks associated with that such as decompression sickness, hypoxia, etc. - the only worries I had were whether we were collecting good data and would polar bears find me before I was rescued if I ended up down there."
Broce credits superb NASA maintenance and Lockheed's design of the aircraft for getting him back to Keflavik safely. A second science mission was planned for April 10, weather permitting, over Iceland and over the southwest Greenland targets.
Although not directly connected to the Spring 2012 Operation IceBridge Arctic polar ice survey flights being staged out of Greenland, the ER-2 flights are being conducted concurrently with many of the same flight tracks flown by IceBridge mission aircraft.
Learn more about the advanced MABEL laser altimeter.