C-130 during CAESAR

Instruments Available on NSF/NCAR Research Aircraft

The NSF/NCAR HIAPER GV and C-130 airborne platforms are equipped with fuselage apertures of different shapes and sizes to accept optical windows or structural plates that serve as mounting locations for various remote sensing instruments. Large, interchangeable instrumentation pods can carry optical particle probes, active and passive remote sensors, and in-situ sensors. Wingtip pylons can carry canister-mounted sensors. Structures at the fuselage top and bottom provide additional capacity for hemispheric radiometers and other sensors.

EOL and the Lower Atmosphere Observing Facilities (LAOF) partner organizations provide many ground-based and airborne remote sensing platforms. The aircraft investigator handbooks for the C-130 and HIAPER GV provide details on the airborne instrumentation interfaces.

Standard Instrumentation

The NCAR Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL) offers a comprehensive suite of standard airborne instrumentation used on our NSF/NCAR C-130 and Gulfstream V. The measurements cover a wide range of variables such as ambient temperature, static and dynamic pressure, total and potential temperatures, relative and specific humidity, and various wind components (horizontal, vertical, and gust) This instrumentation is vital for collecting high-quality data on atmospheric conditions, enhancing our understanding of atmospheric geosciences..


The AVAPS™ (Airborne Vertical Atmospheric Profiling System) Dropsonde System revolutionized atmospheric research and weather forecasting.  This innovative system deploys GPS dropsondes from aircraft, capturing high-resolution vertical profiles of ambient temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind conditions. This system utilizes parachuted GPS dropsondes, which are released from aircraft and transmit real-time data back to an onboard system via a radio link. AVAPS has been instrumental in improving weather forecasts, particularly for severe weather events such as hurricanes, by providing precise and targeted observations over remote and difficult-to-reach areas like oceans and polar regions. The AVAPS system is deployed on various research aircraft, including the NSF/NCAR GV, the NSF/NCAR C-130, and the University of Wyoming King Air. 

Remote Sensing

NCAR's Earth Observing Laboratory (EOL) operates and maintains various state-of-the-art remote sensing instruments used for atmospheric research. These instruments include radar and lidar systems that provide detailed measurements of atmospheric conditions. The S-PolKa radar, a dual-polarization, Doppler radar, can be used to measure precipitation and provide detailed data on the microphysical properties of clouds. The High Spectral Resolution Lidar (HSRL) is used for profiling aerosols and clouds, offering valuable insights into their structure and composition. The Integrated Sounding System (ISS), which combines multiple sensing technologies such as surface meteorology, radiosondes, and wind profiling radars to deliver comprehensive atmospheric observations.

Cloud Measurements

A variety of instruments make up the in situ cloud probe suite, to allow measurement of the full size range of cloud particles, from small droplets to large hydrometeors.  The suite includes forward scattering spectrometers, optical array probes, liquid water hot wires, and indicators of icing conditions.  These instruments provide such measurements as concentration and area as a function of particle size, liquid water content, and presence of supercooled liquid.  Specialized instruments, like HOLODEC, also provide higher resolution imagery of the cloud particles for distinguishing particle phase and shape.  The combined observations from this suite allow for in depth study of cloud microphysics and provide critical insights into the processes governing cloud dynamics and precipitation, enabling better predictions and modeling of weather and climate systems​

Radiative Measurements

NCAR EOL’s radiative instruments can measure a range of parameters including infrared and shortwave (solar) irradiance, which are crucial for understanding atmospheric radiation balance and cloud radiative effects. Specific instruments include the Wintronics KT19.85 radiation pyrometer for remote surface and sky temperatures, the CMP22 Pyranometer for solar irradiance, and the CGR4 Pyrgeometer for infrared irradiance. Additionally, the HIAPER Airborne Radiation Package (HARP) provides high-resolution measurements of actinic flux and spectral irradiance, essential for climate research and atmospheric studies

Aerosol Measurements

NCAR EOL provides various airborne aerosol measurement instruments. Specific instruments include the Wintronics Ultra-High Sensitivity Aerosol Spectrometer (UHSAS), which measures the size distribution of aerosol particles, the Condensation Nuclei Counter (CN), and an array of aerosol sampling inlets such as the counterflow virtual impactor (CVI). These measurements are essential for studies related to cloud formation, radiation balance, and aerosol dynamics in the atmosphere.

Gas Measurements

The NSF/NCAR aircrafts support a comprehensive suite of instruments designed to provide in-depth analysis of atmospheric gases. Key instruments include the Airborne Carbon Dioxide (CO₂), Methane (CH₄), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and fast ozone. These instruments play a crucial role in understanding atmospheric composition and the impacts of various gases on climate and air quality.

RAF Decommissioned Instruments

A record of instruments decommissioned from the Research Aviation Facility