Upper left: HIAPER cruises toward its new home at Jefferson County Airport, Colorado. Above: Jim Nolan (NCAR Earth Observing Laboratory) greets HIAPER project director Krista Laursen. At the top of the steps is James Huning, HIAPER program official at NSF. (Photos by Carlye Calvin.)
Years of working and waiting paid off on 11 March as the newest NSF/NCAR aircraft arrived at Jefferson County Airport southeast of Boulder. HIAPER, the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research, dazzled more than 100 onlookers with a dramatic fly-by before touching down.
“Is she beautiful or what?” asked a beaming James Huning (NSF). Huning and several other principals traveled on the plane from Savannah, Georgia, where finishing touches had been applied. HIAPER was put through its paces on the flight from Georgia, reaching an altitude of 51,000 feet. Co-pilot Henry Boynton (NCAR) gave the aircraft top marks: “It handles really nicely. ”
Six years in the making, the $81.5 million aircraft is the largest community project in NCAR history. Its arrival marks the successful transformation of a Gulfstream V corporate jet into a research vessel suited for probing the troposphere and parts of the lower stratosphere on flights that can range up to 7,000 miles (11,200 kilometers) and reach an altitude of 51,000 feet (16,000 meters).
“Superb science is going to come from this aircraft over the next 20 to 30 years,” said NCAR director Tim Killeen at a brief celebration at Jeffco after the plane landed.
Researchers will begin taking HIAPER on Boulder-based science missions in the fall. These early flights will allow the plane’s pilots and technicians to familiarize themselves with the plane and perform some initial research.
Krista Laursen, HIAPER project director, congratulated everyone who worked to make the aircraft a reality. “A project like this really takes heart,” she said.