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In-flight research

Faster, higher, further - the research aircraft HALO has been opening up new perspectives in atmospheric research for the past 10 years. In more than 2000 flying hours and numerous missions, it was able to prove its special strengths. HALO can rise over 15 kilometers and has a range of 8000 kilometers. Researchers were already flying over the Arctic Ocean or across the Antarctic with the aircraft.

Normally, it’s the preferred method of transport for the rich who have an appointment or want to go golfing. Converted and named HALO (High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft), this plane provides information on the atmosphere and the climate. Researchers and instruments from Jülich are frequent flyers.

Seitlicher Blick auf Turbine und Schriftzug.Copyright: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

In contrast to business-class passengers, the atmosphere researchers are surprised when served coffee during their eight- to ten-hour flights. They’re not used to it! Normally, they conduct their measurement campaigns with old propeller planes with none of these comforts. A mechanic has stepped into the role of steward. For reasons of safety, he has to be on board and usually he has the most easygoing of jobs.

The team of four to eight researchers, however, is under pressure. They operate the numerous measuring instruments that fill the cabin. And they do this while consulting with their colleagues on the ground who also track the measurements and weather forecasts and additionally use computer models to predict air flows and clouds. “We then know whether we need to change our flight course at short notice in order to obtain interesting data. The fact that we can talk to the pilots and alter our flight route at any time particularly impressed me,” says Dr. Christian Rolf. The 31-year-old Jülich atmosphere researcher was on board two HALO flights already – together with Jülich instruments like FISH. The Fast In Situ Stratospheric Hygrometer is used by scientists at altitudes of between 8 km and 15 km to deter-mine the ice water content in cirrus clouds above Europe.

Blick von vorne auf Cockpit und Turbinen.HALO Gulfstream G550: Max. cruising altitude 15.5 km / Range more than 8,000 km / Max. Speed 1,054 km/h / Weight 22.23 t / Length 31 m.
Copyright: DLR (CC-BY 3.0)

Securing one of the coveted seats in the aircraft is difficult. For the structurally identical business jets, you simply need a lot of money. For scientists, a different currency does the talking: knowing a measuring instrument inside-out gives them an edge because the instruments must be intensively monitored throughout. And of course, each measurement campaign must be excellent in its own right. A scientific steering committee decides whether the methods and aims of a proposed mission warrant take-off or not.

Frank Frick

About HALO

The HALO research aircraft is a joint initiative of German environmental and climate research institutions. HALO was procured using funds from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the Helmholtz Association, and the Max Planck Society. The operation of HALO is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Max Planck Society, Forschungszentrum Jülich, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam (GFZ), and the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research e.V. in Leipzig (TROPOS). The German Aerospace Centre (DLR) owns and operates the aircraft.

Further information:

Institute of Energy and Climate Research - Troposphere (IEK-8)

Field observations on board HALO (IEK-7)