May 2012 - Happy Birthday to the Atmospheric Research Aircraft
Today (May 1st 2012) the NERC - Met Office operated Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA) is celebrating an historic milestone. The 1st of May 2012 is the aircraft's 25th birthday, the anniversary of the roll out and first flight of the BAE SYSTEMS BAe 146-300 prototype at Hatfield on the 1st of May 1987.
Previous to the aircraft's life as the ARA, the BAe 146-300 with the registration code G-LUXE carried out a total of 2,915hrs 45mins development flying for BAE SYSTEMS, before it was grounded on 6th June 2000.
Right: Photo courtesy of BAE SYSTEMS. The BAe-146 G-LUXE flying in 1987.
The BAE SYSTEMS aircraft was then modified ready for use in a new life as the NERC - Met Office Atmospheric Research Aircraft (ARA), flying again as such on 1st October 2003. The ARA is managed by Direct Flight in conjunction with FAAM, the Facility for Atmospheric Measurements.
Since conversion, and relaunch the G-LUXE aircraft has flown nearly 700 missions and completed close to 3500 hours of flying all over the world making atmospheric measurements.
Left:Photos courtesy of BAE SYSTEMS. The BAe 146-300 (G-LUXE) in the Hatfield New Assembly Hall. Right: Photos courtesy of FAAM.
The aircraft has a quite complicated history, it began as the first BAe146 just over 30 years ago. Then it was modified to become the first BAe146-300 ever made, 25 years ago.
Then in 2000, the aircraft was taken apart apart for further modification to become the NERC and Met Office managed ARA. The engines were changed, and extra fuel tanks were added allowing the aircraft to fly for longer. The pressure hull was improved to to allow high-altitude operation and instruments were added, and it became the first ever BAe146-301 in 2003.
Recent science missions of note include flying in the closed UK airspace after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano in 2010, FAAM responded to the emergency with flights around the ash plume.
Annually, over 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals are published based upon ARA data. The large image below shows almost all of the science mission flight tracks (in red) that the ARA has completed since 2003