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Stuart Droce, ER-2 pilot, dons a space pressure suit. These suits can save a pilot’s life in case of a loss of cabin pressurization at the aircraft’s flying altitude of 65,000 feet. U.S. Air Force photo by Ray Crayton
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Base hosts ‘cool’ aircraft for global NASA mission

Posted 6/6/2014   Updated 6/6/2014 Email story   Print story


by Jenny Gordon
Robins Public Affairs

6/6/2014 - ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A NASA ER-2 high-altitude research aircraft has been flying from Robins to North Carolina since early May to assist in gathering rainfall measurements.

The ground validation field campaign known as the Integrated Precipitation and Hydrology Experiment is taking place through June 15, and is co-led by NASA's Global Precipitation Measurement mission, in conjunction with Duke University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hydrometerological Testbed.

The six-week mission has sent the ER-2, with an aircrew support team of 10, to gather data to help predict weather conditions in mountainous regions, in this case the Appalachians. A routine mission includes the plane flying over thunderstorms in Asheville, where ground radars have been placed to measure rainfall.

"The plane acts as if we're a satellite looking down. We're essentially looking down through thunderstorms, picking up microwave energy which can tell you the temperature and so forth based on the noise and background of everything," said Tim Williams, a NASA research test pilot. "It's a very cool system."

Many of the same instruments used on the plane are also in use by the GPM mission's Core Observatory satellite, launched last February by NASA and the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Once data is collected, it's analyzed, furthering the forecasting of global precipitation and snow.

The aircraft has performed 12 missions to date, with a typical mission lasting about six and a half hours until its return to base.

Prior to leaving for each flight, test pilots must wear a space pressure suit because the plane flies at an altitude of 65,000 feet. These suits can save a pilot's life in case of a loss of cabin pressurization at that altitude.

The ER-2 maximizes space for equipment use from its pods to even the wing tips. While in the air, the plane carries instruments such as a radiometer that measure frequencies and microwave bands, various radars and a lightning detector.

This mission will help contribute to advancing the understanding of Earth's water and energy cycles and also extending current capabilities of using satellite precipitation. Campaigns such as these allow scientists to monitor rainfall from a variety of conditions and geographic regions. Past campaigns included 2009 rain studies in Brazil, a 2010 experiment to study high-latitude, cold and light rain in Finland, and the 2012 experiment in Ontario, Canada, to support snowfall measurements.

The ER-2 is one of two aircraft based out of NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, Calif.

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