WP-3D Platform Info

NOAA WP-3D Lockheed Orion Aircraft

NOAA's Aircraft Operations Center at MacDill AFB, FL maintains and operates NOAA's aircraft assets. Among them are two Lockheed WP-3D Orion, four engine turbo-prop aircraft, which are mainly used for severe storms and other weather related research. Starting in 1994, these aircraft have been temporarily converted into highly sophisticated airborne air chemistry and aerosol research platforms.

Specifications and Operational Parameters

Length116' 10"
Span99' 8"
Fuselage Diameter11' 3"
Ceiling25,000 ft
Research Speed200 knts IAS
Range1600+ nm
Fuel Burn4500 - 6000 lbs / hr
Fuel Load58,000 lbs (48,000 lbs usable; 10,000 lbs reserve)
Max Science Payload~ 5000 lbs inside fuselage; plus additional instruments in external wing stores

The operating range is ample to permit sampling of the primary pollution source regions, and to follow the transport and transformation of their emissions across Texas. We estimate the range of the WP-3D operating out of Ellington Field will be 700 nautical miles, assuming a return to Ellington. The above-cited operational range is an estimate and actual range is determined by how much fuel can be loaded within the maximum aircraft gross weight limit of 135,000 lbs. We anticipate the aircraft to be 'max zero fuel weight' limited, i.e., with the fuselage loaded to capacity and additional instrumentation operated in external stores (pods) under the wings.

The WP-3D aircraft are operated by an AOC crew of seven (aircraft commander, pilot, flight engineer, navigator, flight director/meteorologist, and two technicians) and can carry in addition several science personnel. The planned payload relies on the full space and payload weight capacity available.

High pollution and haze events frequently affect Texas in the summer; however, the sources and the factors that shape the air quality are not well known. Both local and distant sources (transported pollution) are believed to play a role in these events. In turn, pollution from Texas can be transported out of state, with potential adverse impacts on regional air quality and climate.

An instrumented aircraft can uniquely address questions relevant to both climate and air quality components, e.g.:

  • From the perspective of regional air-quality research, aircraft measurements can characterize multiple important features of the existing pollution issues in Texas. The 2006 study will address the processes of ozone and secondary aerosol formation, sampling both daytime and nighttime chemistry, and seek to improve the understanding of roles that emissions, chemistry and transport play in shaping Texas air quality.
  • From the perspective of climate research, an aircraft can undertake a systematic study of the formation and evolution of the chemical and optical properties of aerosols from urban and industrial sources. The aim of such research is to address one of the more important open questions in climate research: how the various types of emissions and the subsequent atmospheric chemistry determine the optical properties of aerosols, and hence, the impact of these aerosols on radiative forcing in the atmosphere.