Monday, 2 June 2014

NASA 709

We seem to be getting away from NZ civil aviation however these last couple of posts have involved Kiwi's in country - be it in the ANZES workshops or in the science field as in the case of this post.
This Lockheed ER-2 was in Christchurch in April 1994 doing air sampling.
The 'ER' designation is said to stand for 'Earth Resources'
Above is a pic of NASA709 / 80-1097 seen at Christchurch on 15-04-1994.
I believe it also had the US civil registration of N809NA.
More pics can be sen on the following links.  (scroll about 1/3 down page).
 Or simply google   photos ER2 80-1097

Below is an extract from which tells the NASA U-2 story better than I.
The ER-2 provides the high altitude and extended duration that few aircraft can offer’, explains Tom ‘T-Rex’ Ryan, a former US Air Force U-2 pilot with around 2,400 hours on type and now a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Earth Science research pilot who has notched up some 300 hours on the ER-2.
A typical mission will last six to eight hours, covering 2,500-3,000mn and will be flown at around 65,000ft, although unlike the U-2 we also operate as low as 28,000ft. Although satellites could perform some of the missions, the ER-2 is a cheaper and more ‘tactical’ option due to its ability to loiter over a target area.
On average, the two ER-2s are operated for a combined total of 250 to 300 hours each year, and at the time of writing they had amassed 11,449 flight hours between them. Most recently following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and Mississippi flooding in 2011, NASA’s ER-2s were called upon to assess the extent of the damage.
During the tornado and heavy thunderstorm period in the Southern Great Plains in 2011, the ER-2s were also tasked with flying directly over the storms, looking for the most destructive cells and measuring wind speeds, temperatures and rainfall.
Only ex-USAF U-2 pilots with over 1,000 hours on type can qualify for the ER-2 programme. At present there are four ER-2 pilots, two of whom are Computer Science Corporation (CSC) contractors and two civil servants. All are also qualified to fly other NASA assets including the Douglas DC-8 Airborne Science Laboratory, the Boeing 747SP Stratospheric Observatory for Infra-red Astronomy (SOFIA) platform ( in NZ about a year ago - see )
and unmanned aerial vehicles.
When NASA received its first U-2Cs in 1971, the initial purpose of the Airborne Science programme was to produce multi-spectral photographs of selected representative ecosystems, in order to simulate the Return Beam Vidicon (RBV) data system intended for use on board the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS/ Landsat 1). However, the U-2Cs and ER-2s that ultimately replaced these aircraft have since proven to be invaluable research assets. Accordingly, they have been utilised in a variety of missions which include conducting atmospheric experiments, assessing natural resources, monitoring climate change and ozone depletion, disaster assessment and the development of satellite sensors.
When the ER-2s currently operated by NASA were manufactured they were almost identical to the USAF TR-1As/U-2Rs that were built at the time. Of course, NASA’s version lacked the defensive systems and classified electronics found on its military counterpart. In place of reconnaissance equipment, the various payload areas of the ER-2 are capable of housing a wide range of scientific sensors. Each payload area contains one interface panel which links the instrument to the aircraft electrical system, the pilot control panel, and the aircraft data system. Payloads can be carried in the nose compartment, the Q-bay (equipment bay) just aft of the cockpit, the System 20 pod on the trailing edge of the right wing, and the fuselage centreline pod, all of which are unpressurised compartments. The ER-2 can also be equipped with two wing-mounted ‘superpods’ which consist of five individual segments — nosecone, forward pod, mid-body, aft pod, and tailcone. Although also carried by USAF U-2s, one unique feature of the ER-2 superpods is that the forward two-thirds of the pod, including the nose, forward pod and mid-body, can be pressurised. ‘This provides some added sensor capability as the sensors carried within them do not have to account for the low pressure that those that are flown on the U-2 have to contend with’, explains Tom Ryan. Two sensors, referred to as Large Area Collectors (LACs), can also be mounted on the wings at the superpod attachment locations. When the ER-2 reaches 65,000ft, the clamshell-like doors open to reveal pads covered with sticky oil that trap microscopic cosmic material. From 1995 to 1998, NASA secured the loan of the prototype U-2 Senior Spur satellite communications system. Renamed as the Satellite Telemetry and Return Link (STARLink), this system, which became operational in 1997, was contained within a pod and carried on the upper fuselage of NASA’s newest ER-2, N709NA (80-1097), acquired in 1989 (see below). This not only offered the ability to continuously transmit data/images in real-time but also enabled scientists to control or fine tune on-board instruments in real-time. Ultimately a lack of funding meant that NASA was unable to retain the STARLink system, and therefore the vast majority of data is collected on hard drives for post-analysis. Both ER-2s are equipped with an Iridium satellite phone system. Although this is primarily used for communicating with the pilot, it does provide the capability to relay data back to the scientists in real time. However, due to the narrow bandwidth of the Iridium satellite phone system, only very small amounts of data can be transmitted. With the exception of a switch to activate the payload and various re-set procedures in the event of a fault, the ER-2 pilot has no actual control over the payload itself. Therefore all relevant target collection information is preprogrammed prior to each mission. This is in contrast to NASA’s other high-altitude research platform, the WB-57F, whose rear crew member is able to manipulate where the sensor looks, as well as being able to zoom in and out and change the sequence of the targets. While the ER-2 is only capable of carrying a maximum payload of 2,550lb, approximately 3,450lb less than can be carried by the WB-57F, it offers greater altitude, range and most importantly, stability. From spyplane to research platform In 1971 two re-worked U-2Cs, former U-2Gs originally modified for carrier-borne operations, were delivered to NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. Although the CIA and USAF had on occasion flown U-2 missions in support of civilian agencies, the arrival of the two overhauled U-2s, N708NA (56-6681) and N709NA (56-6682), enabled NASA to conduct experiments with its own high-altitude flying laboratories. Accordingly, the inaugural data acquisition flight took place on 31 August 1971. In the late 1970s the USAF identified a need for additional reconnaissance assets to supplement its U-2R fleet and accordingly, in 1979, Lockheed resumed production of the U-2 for a third time. Now designated the TR-1 in an attempt to remove the spyplane label, but subsequently regaining the U-2R designation, the new aircraft were manufactured at Lockheed’s Palmdale facility NASA decided it was time to acquire a replacement for its ageing U-2Cs and in 1981 the first TR-1A (80-1063) to roll off the production line was delivered to NASA’s Ames Research Center. The new aircraft was redesignated ER-2 and received the civilian registration N706NA. With a wingspan of 104ft 8in and a fuselage length of 63ft 1in, the ER-2 had an approximately 24ft greater wingspan than the original U-2C and was almost 14ft longer. In 1987 the first U-2C delivered to NASA (N708NA) was retired. As a replacement, a former USAF TR-1A (80-1069) was acquired on loan. Now converted to ER-2 standard, the aircraft was re-registered as N708NA. This particular aircraft continued to serve with NASA until 1996, following which it was returned to the USAF and converted to U-2S standard. In 1989 the remaining U-2C (N709NA) was also retired, although later that same year NASA received its second purpose-built ER-2 (80-1097), which subsequently adopted the N709NA registration. In 1997 NASA moved its ER-2 operations from the Ames Research Center to the Dryden Flight Research Center located at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The aircraft were relocated to their current base of operations at NASA’s Palmdale facility in January 2010.
While the vast majority of the work carried out by NASA is in support of pure science, the ER-2, just like the WB-57F, can be contracted to test sensor payloads, including military-related equipment, on behalf of paying customers referred to as ‘reimbursables’. These include the US Department of Defence (DoD), Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. Quite understandably, NASA prefers not to comment on such matters, but some details concerning the testing of military hardware are known. As part of its early warning system the USAF planned to launch the Teal R uby satellite in 1986. Using an infra-red (IR) mosaic sensor, developed by Rockwell for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Teal Ruby was designed to detect and track aircraft from space. In order to be able to distinguish aircraft from background clutter, a database of background signals had to be established. Accordingly, in the mid-1980s, under the Highly Calibrated Airborne Measurements Program (HI-CAMP), the ER-2 was equipped with a similar IR imaging sensor and tasked with making precise atmospheric, oceanic and terrestrial background measurements. Aircraft of various sizes were also flown against the HI-CAMP sensor to test its ability to detect them, and although the satellite was ready for launch in 1986 the project was ultimately cancelled. - See more at:
There is still a strong chance that we will see two larger upper atmospheric research aircraft based at Christchurch later this winter (2014).

Actually the Gulfstream V N677F arrived at Christchurch Today (03-06-2014).

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