July 1, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
NASA is informing pilots that it has begun a series of low-altitude research flights along the I-95 corridor in the Baltimore/Washington Cecil County area of Maryland.
Fourteen flights to study urban air pollution have been scheduled during July in a four-engine Lockheed P-3 Orion, which at times will fly as low as 1,000 feet agl. NASA said the flights will be visible from Baltimore southwest to the Washington Beltway and northeast to the Delaware State line. The route also will take the aircraft above the Chesapeake Bay Bridge near Annapolis.
“The flights are part of a study of urban air pollution NASA is conducting in cooperation with the Maryland Department of the Environment, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and several universities. The campaign is called Discover-AQ, which stands for "Deriving Information on Surface Conditions from Column and Vertically Resolved Observations Relevant to Air Quality," NASA said.
At six points the P-3 will execute spiraling climbs and descents. The missions also call for the aircraft to fly several line segments at low altitude as shown, while being worked by Potomac Approach Control, NASA said.
Dates and times of the flights will depend on mission requirements and will be announced in advance by 5 p.m. the day prior to scheduled flights.
Pilots flying in the area should be alert to the possible presence of the large aircraft flying at the unusually low altitude. Pilots should not mistake the research flight as an aircraft in distress. NASA also has informed the public of the flights with news coverage on area television and radio stations.
The flights will follow a regular route shown by the yellow line on the map. The airplane will fly the route multiple times during a day's flight. Each flight could last up to eight hours.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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