Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Contact: Madge Gibson


The University of Tennessee (UTSI) Aviation Systems Program recently accomplished another airborne science milestone by flying their first science missions for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in April 2010. These first missions were flown over eastern Tennessee for NOAA’s Atmospheric Turbulence and Diffusion Division (ATDD), Oak Ridge, Tennessee. ATDD is one of several field divisions of the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory, Silver Spring, Maryland. ATDD conducts research on air quality, climate, and dispersion, providing data that impacts issues of national and global significance. The UTSI airborne science research is made possible through funding provided by NOAA, totaling over $1.5 million for the next two years. Flying their Piper Navajo Airborne Science Research Aircraft, the Aviation Systems team collected scientific data over Crossville, Tennessee and near the Oak Ridge National Laboratories.

NOAA ATDD is collaborating with the University of Tennessee Space Institute to obtain airborne measurements of the Earth’s surface temperature over selected U.S. Climate Reference Network (USCRN) ground measurement sites. While the Climate Network ground sites can only obtain temperature data at a single point on the Earth’s surface, UTSI’s aircraft can obtain data over a wide area over and around these ground sites. The airborne data will help NOAA scientists quantify the spatial variability and validity of the single-point, ground measurements of surface temperature. The airborne measurements will also be used to improve satellite infrared reflectance measurements, such as those being made from the NOAA Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R Series (GOES-R). With the help of NOAA ATDD, UTSI is planning to erect a ground station near the UTSI campus to provide valuable climate data for many years to come and provide a unique opportunity for UTSI researchers to become involved with climate research and novel sensor development.

The airborne data was obtained using the highly instrumented, Aviation Systems Piper Navajo airborne science research aircraft. The UTSI Piper Navajo is a cabin-class, twin engine aircraft that has been highly modified to carry an array of specialized airborne science sensors, instrumentation, and data systems. For the ATDD missions, these sensors included radiometers that measured direct and reflected light intensity, an infrared temperature sensor, and a laser altimeter that provided very accurate height above the ground.

The NOAA ATDD missions are the start of a series of airborne science flight campaigns to be conducted by UTSI. In May 2010, UTSI will again team up with the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Alabama to fly the Marshall Airborne Passive Microwave Imaging Radiometer (MAPIR). The MAPIR is mounted in the UTSI Piper Navajo belly sensor pod developed by the Aviation Systems Program. Previously, UTSI had flown the NASA MAPIR to collect surface temperature data for nuclear power plant cooling water in Tennessee and northern Alabama. In the upcoming tests, the NOAA ATDD missions will be repeated with surface temperature data being collected using the state-of-the-art NASA MAPIR sensor.

Then in the summer of 2010, the Aviation Systems airborne science team will head to the Gulf of Mexico to conduct the Atmospheric Mercury Sensing flight campaign for the NOAA Air Resources Laboratory. This major scientific endeavor is a collaborative effort between UTSI, NOAA, Georgia Tech, Florida State University, and the University of Miami. The Aviation Systems Piper Navajo will be flown to collect samples of atmospheric mercury over the NOAA ground-based mercury monitoring site at the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) in Grand Bay, Mississippi and over the Gulf of Mexico. This airborne data will be used by scientists to help understand the sources and transport of atmospheric mercury and increase the database for the modeling of atmospheric mercury.

Dr. Stephen Corda, Chairman of the UTSI Aviation Systems Program, stated that “The success of the UTSI Airborne Science Program is due to the dedication, expertise, and plain hard work of the Aviation Systems team. This team is comprised of unique individuals with outstanding skills in their respective fields and extensive flight test experience. The UTSI Airborne Science team includes Associate Professor John Muratore who heads up the systems integration area and flies as a Flight Test Engineer, Professor Peter Solies who leads structural design and integration and flies as a Flight Test Engineer, Assistant Professor Richard Ranaudo who supports flight safety and operations planning and flies as a Test Pilot, Research Engineer Borja Martos who supports engineering integration, flight operations planning, and flies as a Test Pilot, Head Aircraft Mechanic Greg Heatherly and Aircraft Mechanic Shane Porter who both not only provide extremely professional aircraft maintenance but who also perform much of the specialized hardware fabrication and installations of our research equipment, Brenda Brown who was critical in handling our budget administration and our procurements, and our graduate students, William Moonan, Joe Young, and Jonathan Kolwyck, who have provided all manner of engineering support. It takes a true team effort to conduct this type of flight research with such a high quality data product and to perform these flight operations safely.”