Having the ability to fly about 10,000 feet higher than commercial airlines typically fly, the Citation Research Aircraft has an up close look at the clouds, and the physics behind them.
When private industry partner Ophir Corporation, a Colorado-based subcontractor to major U.S. Aerospace corporations, wanted to test its latest instrument, the Optical Air Data Sensor, they chose UND. They came to the right place, as UND is the only public university that owns and operates a research jet.
"If you want to test or develop an instrument, the Cessna serves as a platform," said Dr. David Delene, a UND Atmospheric Sciences faculty member who specializes in atmospheric research.
The Optical Air Data Sensor created by Ophir Corp. is being installed and tested this summer over a targeted range of conditions in a series of dedicated Citation flights. The Optical Air Data Sensor uses laser beam reflections from particles to characterize the air flow around the aircraft.
The sensor measures airflow in three dimensions approximately a meter away from the aircraft. At the same time, the Citation measures atmospheric winds, temperature, pressure, true air speed, angle of attack and angle of sideslip.
This sensor will be advantageous to commercial as well as military aircraft by being able to produce accurate data in poor weather conditions.
Companies, such as Ophir, fund jet testing to try out their instruments, while UND provides the aircraft, flies with the prototype, provides high-quality atmospheric measurements and does post-flight analysis.
UND's Cessna Citation II aircraft also measures aerosols and state-of-the-atmosphere conditions over the range of flight conditions typically encountered by commercial and general aviation aircraft.
Although the jet does sample aerosols from storm clouds, it does not fly through any conditions a commercial aircraft won't fly through.
Instrument testing takes place year-round and all over the world. Students in the UND Atmospheric Sciences program have the ability to ride in the jet and observe first-hand how instruments are tested.
Delene emphasized how the Cessna Citation is not reserved only for Atmospheric Science majors. In fact, departments such as space studies, chemistry and chemical engineering are collaborating on Citation research projects.
UND Atmospheric Sciences has operated a research jet since the early 1970s. The current Cessna Citation II was acquired a couple of years ago to replace the previous plane. The Citation II is continuously improved to provide top-notch research opportunities for UND researchers and students and for outside companies that contract for its services.