NASA “spy planes” touch down at Walvis Bay Airport on science mission

Two planes of the The United States of America’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) touched down at the Walvis Bay International Airport last week to utilize the airport as a base until the end of September for very unique flight missions over the South East Atlantic.

Off the coast of Namibia for several months of the year a layer of smoke, originating from fires deep in Africa, drifts over a persistent layer of clouds. NASA wants to study the interaction between this smoke layer and the clouds to determine how this interaction effects global warming.
The planes are the ER-2 (pictured here touching down at Walvis Bay), a variant of the U-2 spy plane built between 1955 and 1989 and still in use for spy missions by both the United States and China. The ER-2 will fly to altitudes of up to 20km to photograph the smoke and cloud layers through a range of highly sophisticated imagery equipment.
The second plane is the P-3 which was developed by the US during the Cold War as a submarine chaser. This plane is equipped with instruments to gather direct samples in flight of the cloud and smoke formations.
The document further confirms Namibia’s initial reluctance to give the diplomatic go-ahead for the missions and for these types of planes to operate in Namibian air space, presumably for the possibilities that these planes could embark on airborne spy missions over the country.
An article sanctioned by NASA published over the mission reads: “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has launched a mission on Monday, 29 August, sending daily flights from Walvis Bay International Airport for the next 3 weeks to collect information which could very possibly solve global warming puzzle. NASA aircrafts, including a P-3B and an ER-2, will be used to conduct the investigation, flying out of Walvis Bay, Namibia and probing the aerosol/cloud interactions over the South-East Atlantic during the season of African burning (August-October). The P-3B aircraft is a four-engine turboprop capable of long duration flights of 8-12 hours, the aircraft serves an economical test bed for studying the Earth and for new concepts in satellite design. The ER-2 is flown solo at 20 km and carries a suite of instruments similar to those on satellites, a very high-altitude civilian atmospheric research fixed-wing aircraft based on the Lockheed U-2 reconnaissance aircraft.
“Off the coast of Namibia, for several months a year, a layer of smoke drifts over a persistent deck of low clouds. It’s the perfect place to investigate the thorniest problem in all of climate science: how haze and clouds interact to influence global warming, either boosting or moderating it. Now, after weeks of delay, an airborne research campaign is getting started in this diaphanous natural laboratory.
The smoke, from fires deep in Africa, is nearly invisible to satellites in space, and because the southeast Atlantic Ocean has few islands, the layers are hard to study from below. But flying directly into them from Namibia has posed its own hurdles—bureaucratic ones, which NASA has now cleared. On 29 August, research planes will begin nearly a month of flights into the heart of the smoke and clouds, taking off every other day from Walvis Bay, Namibia, with plans to return in 2017 and 2018.”

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