Science and Technology News

Monday, June 22, 2015

NOAA plane receives upgrade, participates in field campaign

by Senior Airman Ned T. Johnston
6th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

6/19/2015 - MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stationed on MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, installed upgraded engines on one of their two Lockheed WP-3D Orion aircraft as part of a larger upgrade project for the two planes June 3, 2015.

In an effort to stay ahead of the technological curve and to ensure they will be able to fulfill their vital environmental intelligence gathering mission moving forward, NOAA initiated a $42 million project to upgrade their two aircraft. The project includes the Rolls-Royce T-56 Series 3.5 engine upgrade already implemented on one of the aircraft and future upgrades to the wings and avionics systems of both planes.

"With an infusion of Hurricane Sandy Supplemental funds for capital improvements to the NOAA WP-3D, NOAA and Rolls-Royce were in a unique situation to bring the Series 3.5 Engine Enhancement package to the P-3 community, allowing NOAA to realize future fuel savings as well as increase the performance of our aircraft," said Cdr. Devin Brakob, NOAA platform acquisition manager.

The new Rolls-Royce engines have shown a nearly 10 percent fuel savings, which not only reduces fuel costs, but also allows more time in the air to gather essential research and forecast data or enables the planes to carry heavier payloads. The engines do this by having improved blades, vanes and seals compared to later model engines.

"With these new engines and other upgrades yet to come to the planes, we'll be able to keep these planes relevant for years to come. We're going to be able to fly further, faster, higher and longer making us that much more efficient and effective when getting the job done," said Brakob.

NOAA didn't waste any time waiting around to utilize their plane's new capabilities.

"Right now, the NOAA WP-3D aircraft with the new engine upgrades is supporting an atmospheric science mission called PECAN [Plains Elevated Convection at Night].  The goal it to study thunderstorms and how the atmosphere supports their lifecycle, and how they impact lives, property, agriculture and the water budget in the region.  These upgraded engines have only been on the plane for a few weeks and we're already reaping the rewards from these upgrades," said Lt. Dave Cowan, NOAA public outreach officer.

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