NASA Pilots Study Lightning : Adverse Weather with Spy Plane Flights

NASA Pilots Study Lightning : NASA pilots fly a spy plane into clouds to study lightning and adverse weather. Lightning was investigated from low-flying planes or the ground. NASA’s dangerous storm-flying strategy uses the Airborne Science Program’s highest-flying ER-2. Over a month, these daring pilots flew 60 hours to gather data that could help us predict major storms.

Nikolai Ostgaard of the University of Bergen, who leads this incredible initiative, said, “This is a mission to look into the microphysics of what is going on in the huge electric field above our heads.” Every year, 40 million lightning bolts hit the US, and more people want to know how they function.

Lightning strikes are rare, but 90% of victims survive. The hazard is still a major cause of storm deaths. Lightning has murdered 43 Americans annually for 30 years. A stark warning about nature’s strength.

Lightning can induce heart failure and brain damage if not treated immediately. Lightning is earthly gamma-ray flashes and glows caused by thunderstorms. Thunderclouds release short, strong gamma-ray flashes on Earth. Gamma-ray lights last minutes to hours but are dimmer.


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ALOFT (Airborne Lightning Observatory for Fly’s Eye Simulator and Terrestrial Gamma Rays) researchers worldwide organize travels to Central American, Caribbean, and Florida storm areas. This massive research investigated lightning and thundercloud energy fields.

NASA’s ER-2 can fly up to 60,000 feet and approach massive thunderclouds on this study trip. The plane’s special equipment detected gamma-ray strength as close to the storm clouds as safe.

Real-time data sharing makes ground-to-air communication easier. This improved steering and extended lightning-lit thundercloud views. Scientists learned more about terrestrial gamma-ray flashes, and thundercloud glows with this integrated strategy.

The senior research aerospace engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, Timothy Lang, believes this research will help us understand storms and prepare for lightning.

This pioneering research is being done at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Palmdale, California, utilizing a Lockheed ER-2 high-altitude plane. When bought in the early 1980s, these planes proved crucial for research. The oceans, stars, and now weather have been studied with them.

Nikolai Ostgaard best states, “It will open doors to understanding lightning.” This initiative investigates lightning. The deep things we gained on this tour will help us understand these rare but naturally strong catastrophes.