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July 1998

Glider and turboprop: Two research aircraft in one for THERMEX

A different view of ML. (Photo by Rick Anthes.)

Not many staff see the Mesa Lab from this vantage point--a few hundred feet above it. UCAR president Rick Anthes took the image shown here as he glided above Boulder 13 May as a guest aboard a unique high-performance motorglider on loan to NCAR for a spring/summer field project. THERMEX, the Thermal Wave Experiment, was put together by Joach Kuettner, who holds the UCAR Distinguished Chair for Atmospheric Sciences and International Research. The largely volunteer team behind THERMEX includes Bob Grossman (University of Colorado at Boulder), software consultant Colin Barry, engineering consultant Jim Hauser, Swiss nuclear scientist and pilot Wolf Herold, United Airlines senior pilot Phil Ecklund, and retired CU physics professor Rod Smythe.

Through early June, the team investigated the fine structure of convective waves in relation to an underlying field of small cumulus clouds. "When you get the right kind of shear just above a strongly convective boundary layer, cumulus clouds form waves in the atmosphere just like a rock in a stream," says Grossman.

The German motorglider used in THERMEX is a Stemme S-10VT turbo with a variable propeller, and it's a beauty. According to Joach, "It's the only sailplane that retracts its propeller through the nose while in flight." Thus, it can take off like any prop plane, then begin sailing sans propeller with a glide ratio of 50 to 1 (from an altitude of one mile, it can sail 50 miles). Ecklund and Herold piloted the craft, while Grossman, Smythe, and Barry took notes and photos and ran the data-display-and-capture program written by Hauser. Supporting measurements came from RAP's Real-Time Weather Data Web site, operated by Greg Thompson.

After his test ride, Rick reported, "The flight was smooth, the scenery wonderful, and the food and beverage service about the same as on major airlines. And I received 17 frequent flyer miles." •BH

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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu

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