December 17, 2013
By Jim Moore
The flight plan is not all that unusual for a Gulfstream G550 in December—Oberpfaffenhofen in eastern Germany to the Caribbean island of Barbados—though this mission is for science.
A research team plans to gather precise measurements of clouds, probing the internal structure of clouds to gain a more precise understanding of their composition. The science team is led by renowned climate scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. Missions are flown by crews from the German counterpart to NASA, Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR, which operates the aircraft dubbed HALO—the High Altitude and Long Range research aircraft. The flights, planned between Dec. 10 and Dec. 25, mark the first time HALO has been used to collect cloud data using an array of sensors including lasers. A belly pod has been fitted to the aircraft to accommodate some of the sensors.
"Besides the distribution of moisture in the atmosphere, we will be using laser measurements to obtain information on particles suspended in the air," said Markus Rapp, head of the DLR Institute of Atmospheric Physics, in a news release. "These particles, known as aerosols, have a direct effect on the formation of clouds."
The team will compare data gathered by the Gulfstream to satellite data, and hopes to resolve discrepancies noted between measurements taken by satellites and other means, including ground observations and balloons. The aircraft will also deploy dropsondes that will collect data as they fall under parachutes.
The science team ultimately hopes to develop a more accurate picture of the inner workings of clouds, filling in gaps in the data that could refine their understanding of cloud dynamics, and how clouds interact with other factors affecting weather and climate.
AOPA Online Associate Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot who enjoys competition aerobatics.
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