Have you seen him? NASA Atmospheric Research Laboratory flies over North Carolina :: WRAL.com
If you looked up in the early afternoon and noticed an unusual-looking white plane in the clear blue Carolina sky, you’ve had a rare glimpse of a spy plane turned platform. scientist for NASA.
N809NA took off from Pope Army Airfield in Fayetteville before sunrise this morning and circled right over RDU Airport before heading north for a seven-hour flight into the skies of the southern Ontario. Scientists were studying the physics of clouds in a system thought to bring snow to Pennsylvania.
He returned to Pope Airfield shortly after 1pm today passing over Rocky Mount, Wendell and Lillington en route. Grabbing the attention of WRAL viewers who asked if they had just seen a U-2.
NASA operates a pair of these Lockheed ER-2 planes, a modified version of the high-flying U-2 reconnaissance planes that flew spy missions during the Cold War.
Each serves as a flying laboratory in the airborne science program. Since 1971, NASA’s ER-2s and the U-2s that preceded them have flown more than 4,500 science data collection missions. They are also developing new electronic sensors as well as calibrating weather and climate research satellites.
Wednesday’s flight was part of NASA’s Atlantic Coastal Threatening Snowstorm Microphysics and Precipitation Survey (IMPACTS). However, since February 2020, flights have been conducted from the Wallops Flight Facility on the east coast of Virginia, stretching from Savannah, Georgia, through the Carolinas to the Ohio Valley and across the New England states, focusing on clouds that produce snow.
The data collected by these aircraft will help meteorologists improve snowfall forecasts by providing a better understanding of the formation, organization and evolution of snow bands over time.
How it works
Advanced radar, lidar and microwave radiometer remote sensing instruments are on board the ER-2 while the P-3 includes sensors that measure water content and particle size in clouds, studying icing and the airflow around the precipitation. Scientists can also launch radiosondes similar to those used to study hurricanes.
An ER-2 aircraft monitors about 95% of the atmosphere flying at an altitude of up to 70,000 feet while its sister ship, a P-3 Orion originally designed as a submarine hunter for the US Navy, flies through the cloud layer at about 1/3 of this altitude. These aircraft, working with ground-based observations and weather satellites like the Global Precipitation Satellites (GPM) and GOES, study the atmosphere from top to bottom in conditions that can produce snow.
A similar stacked approach has been used by NASA atmospheric research scientists for many years. We say this in action several years ago in western North Carolina. Instruments corresponding to those of the recently launched GPM satellite.