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Douglas Isbell

Headquarters, Washington, DC May 13, 1997
(Phone: 202/358-1547)

David Morse
Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA
(Phone: 415/604-4724)

RELEASE: 97-94

NASA EARTH SCIENCE RESEARCH AIRCRAFT SOARS TO NEW HEIGHTS

A NASA ER-2 aircraft, complete with a full array of science
instrument packages, recently conducted its first operational
mission at an altitude of 70,000 feet, a key region for
atmospheric research.

The vehicle currently is on deployment to Alaska for missions
over the North Pole in support of a project known as POLARIS,
which stands for Photochemistry of Ozone Loss in the Arctic Region
In Summer. NASA has two such vehicles in its ER-2 fleet based at
the Agency's Ames Research Center, Mountain View, CA. The ER-2 is
a civilian version of the U-2 aerial reconnaissance plane.

A program to modernize the vehicles by making them lighter,
more fuel efficient and more productive was completed recently.
Over the next year, these improvements will increase significantly
ithe size of science payloads and enhance the altitude performance
of the ER-2s in support of NASA's Mission to Planet Earth
enterprise.

Following a recent flight, Jim Barrilleaux, an ER-2 pilot and
acting chief of Ames' High Altitude Missions branch, expressed his
surprise at the magnitude of difference in feel and performance of
the vehicle. "It flies like a completely new aircraft," he said.
"It feels really tight."

Earth scientists also are excited about the enhanced
capability. "It is really critical that we have access to
consistent measurements at this key altitude, which is an
intermediate region between aerosol particle-driven processes
measured by standard aircraft-based sensors and gas-phase
processes monitored by orbiting satellites," said
Dr. Michael Kurylo, manager of the Upper Atmosphere Research
Program at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC.
The first deployment of an upgraded ER-2 currently is being
conducted over the North Pole through May 15. The present POLARIS
payload utilizes two large superpods attached to the wings. This
more than doubles the available volume for science instruments,
while still permitting operation at enhanced altitudes of 70,000
feet and above, according to flight engineers.

The POLARIS mission is seeking to understand the fundamental
chemistry that dominates the naturally occuring seasonal reduction
of ozone over the pole in the course of the Arctic summer. Many
of the chemical reactions in which project scientists are
interested in occur at altitudes in the 75,000-foot range. Now,
even a fully loaded ER-2 can operate approximately 2,500 feet
higher than previously possible due to lower fuel requirements and
lighter aircraft weight. This increased altitude capability
permits extension of in-place measurements for validating and
upgrading existing models of the upper atmosphere.

Additional information about POLARIS can be obtained at the
website:

http://cloud1.arc.nasa.gov/polaris

NASA's Mission to Planet Earth program is a long-term,
internationally coordinated research effort to study the Earth as
a global environmental system.

-end-