- January 2004
the cutting begin
HIAPER work reaches pivotal stage
Work has reached a critical junction on the much-anticipated new research
aircraft known as the High-performance Instrumented Airborne Platform
for Environmental Research (HIAPER). After more than a year of studies
into how to modify the Gulfstream V airplane to accommodate scientific
instruments, Lockheed Martin workers at a Greenville, South Carolina,
plant will begin cutting into its fuselage in January.
“It’s the moment we’ve been preparing for,”
says Krista Laursen, director of the HIAPER Project Office. “We’re
very confident that the engineering work performed by Gulfstream, Lockheed,
and NCAR personnel will pass this test—but it is a bit of a stressful
If all goes as planned, the jet will arrive at the Research Aviation
Facility at Jefferson County Airport next fall for a final round of modifications.
It’s scheduled to begin limited research flights in the summer of
2005, then take off for full-scale missions at the end of the year. Although
NSF will own the title to the aircraft, NCAR will be responsible for operating
and maintaining it.
HIAPER is designed to meet research needs in the atmospheric sciences
over the next several decades. It will be able to reach an altitude of
51,000 feet (15,500 meters), enabling scientists to collect data at the
tops of storms and the lower edge of the stratosphere. With a range of
about 7,000 miles (11,265 kilometers), the plane will have the ability
to track atmospheric particles across the oceans or reach the South Pole
from bases in South America or New Zealand. Although some research planes
can fly higher, HIAPER’s combination of altitude and range is unmatched
in atmospheric research.
First, however, the plane has to be modified from a standard Gulfstream
V—a jet typically used for whisking around corporate travelers—to
a state-of-the-art research platform.
Constructed in 2002, the plane has a paint coat of drab green (which
is actually a primer to prevent against corrosion) and doesn’t look
like much more than the shell of an aircraft with engines and wings. But
it’s been the subject of intense work by Gulfstream, Lockheed, and
The HIAPER aircraft is undergoing modifications.
(Photo by Brent Kidd and Jim Nolan, ATD.)
In one of the first steps in the modification process, Gulfstream engineers,
consulting with scientists from NCAR and several universities, conducted
studies to characterize the airflow around the aircraft. They determined
the best locations for instruments to gather data on airborne chemicals
and other atmospheric characteristics.
Next, the team had to determine how the instruments could be mounted
without weakening the aircraft structure or disrupting flight systems.
To give an idea of the complexity of that task, consider the belly of
the fuselage, which will support two optical view ports (for remote sensing
and other instruments), two aperture plates (for small instruments that
gather air samples), and four hard points (for instrument packages that
can be mounted in small pods or fairings).
In deciding on final locations for each of those eight modifications,
Gulfstream, Lockheed, and NCAR personnel had to work around a number of
cables and aircraft systems mounted in the belly of the aircraft. Lockheed
personnel also ran computer simulations for all planned aircraft modifications
to determine whether the work to the fuselage would jeopardize the stability
of the frame or the aerodynamic qualities of the aircraft.
“It’s a very lengthy engineering process,” explains
Krista, who regularly flies down to Greenville with other NCAR and UCAR
staffers to consult with Lockheed engineers. “Before you start cutting
into this aircraft, you want to be very sure you’ve done your homework.”
In addition to installing mounts for instruments, Lockheed will add
a chemical exhaust system to the Gulfstream V, which will discharge gases
used by sensors flown on the aircraft. The workers also will install a
research power system and a liquid cooling system to ensure that delicate
scientific instruments are maintained at the correct temperatures in flight.
Lockheed workers have already started removing rivets from the upper
fuselage in preparation for the start of modifications to the top of the
Gulfstream. If all goes as planned, Lockheed will finish its share of
the modifications in the middle of 2004 and will then run tests on the
modified airplane. The plane will then be flown to a plant in Savannah,
Georgia, where another contractor, Garrett Aviation Consulting Group,
will oversee painting of the aircraft and installation of the interior.
NCAR is scheduled to receive the plane in October 2004. ATD staffers
will then make additional modifications, including installing a data acquisition
system and data display and access software. They will also equip the
aircraft with a satellite communication system that will allow for voice
and fax communications and enable scientists on the ground to receive
a near real-time data stream from the aircraft during flights.
After further testing will come the stage that the scientific community
has been waiting for: preliminary research flights out of Jeffco during
the second half of 2005. These flights, known as progressive science missions,
will allow pilots, engineers, and scientists to become more familiar with
the performance capabilities of the aircraft and to carry out initial
scientific measurements before the launch of full-scale research missions
in late 2005.
What about the research?
Scientists now are submitting formal research proposals for the progressive
science missions. In April, the Observing Facilities Advisory Panel (which
consists of scientists from NSF, NCAR, federal labs, and universities)
will announce which projects will be flown on HIAPER. Starting in 2005,
scientists will begin submitting proposals for full-scale HIAPERresearch
Because of its maximum altitude and range, HIAPER will greatly advance
our understanding of Earth and the atmosphere. Here are a few broad research
areas where the plane may produce indispensable research:
HIAPER will be able to fly near the tops of thunderstorms, following the
movement of water droplets and ice particles, analyzing electrical charges,
and measuring air flows. It can also fly far over the ocean to areas where
tropical disturbances are just beginning. Scientists may be able to determine
the location in a hurricane where water vapor is converted to ice—a
key process that releases energy and provides hurricanes with added strength.
With its exceptional range and altitude, the HIAPER
aircraft will enable researchers to gather data about interactions
between the oceans and the atmosphere, as well as about other science
chemistry. The tropopause, which is the boundary between the atmosphere’s
two lowest layers, plays a critical role in Earth’s climate system.
It ranges from 5 to 10 miles (8 to 16 kilometers) above Earth’s
surface. HIAPER will be able to fly in or near this important area for
thousands of miles, collecting data on chemicals, such as ozone and water
vapor, that affect the amount of solar radiation in the atmosphere and
influence temperatures around the globe.
Learning more about what causes certain types of clouds to form and the
resultant impacts on regional and even global climate is a high research
priority. Using HIAPER, scientists will fly through high-forming cirrus
clouds, collecting data on solar radiation, droplets, and wind, and characterizing
the clouds from the inside. They will also create vertical profiles of
clouds to solve such fundamental mysteries as the movement of water droplets
and the creation of rain, and they can reach less-polluted areas in the
Southern Hemisphere, allowing them to compare rain formation and other
cloud processes in pristine and industrialized regions.
When it comes to mapping large areas of the planet with optical instruments
and other remote sensors, HIAPER fills an invaluable niche. Flying higher
than most aircraft, but much lower than satellites, it can cruise above
turbulence in Earth’s lower atmosphere while staying close enough
to the surface to capture high spatial resolution. As a result, scientists
hope to use HIAPER to help society with a wide variety of remote sensing
projects, which may include studying surface waters to find dangerous
areas of water contamination, surveying forest growth to anticipate wildfire
risk, and mapping agricultural regions to predict crop yields. •David
The people behind HIAPER
A number of staffers across the organization are closely involved
in the development of HIAPER.
In the HIAPER Project Office, Krista Laursen is the director,
Dick Friesen is the engineering manager, and Carla Hassler provides
administrative support. Finance & Administration’s
Pat Munson handles contracts for the project, Geoff Cheeseman
in the Atmospheric Technology Division (ATD) serves as the budget
analyst, and Jennifer Oxelson in the Environmental and Societal
Impacts Group maintains the Web site.
A number of scientists have signed on as advisers (including
Don Lenschow in the Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Division
and Mike Coffey in the Atmospheric Chemistry Division, to name
just two). Several engineers, including ATD’s Jack Fox
and Mark Lord, are pitching in as well.
More about HIAPER
Also in this
2003 Outstanding Accomplishments Awards
Forum takes shape
and marriage, NCAR style
hires GLOBE director