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Photos: Aircraft on weather patrol

Specially equipped low-flying commuter aircraft starred in a recent experiment designed to gather weather data.
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By Bill Detwiler on
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Saab 340

The fleet operated by Mesaba Airlines, a Northwest Airlink partner based in Eagan, Minn., includes new Saab 340 cabin class turbo-props. Manufactured by Saab Scania Aerospace, this commuter plane was chosen for use in the Great Lakes Fleet Experiment--a survey designed to test new weather-data technology--because it makes short flights at relatively low altitudes. Those factors increase the number of data readings in parts of the atmosphere that are important for meteorological surveys.

The Great Lakes Fleet Experiment was part of a weather safety initiative sponsored by NASA called Tropospheric Airborne Meteorological Data Report, or TAMDAR, whose focus was to test an inexpensive instrument that would measure meteorological variables. Sixty-four Saab 340s were equipped with TAMDAR devices. TAMDAR flights began Sept. 21, 2004, and continued through November 2005.

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TAMDAR device

Installed on Mesaba Airlines' fleet of Saab 340 turbo-props, the TAMDAR instrument features a tiny sensor designed to gather weather information.

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map of weekly flights

Mesaba Airlines' weekly commuter flights. With TAMDAR on board these flights, the number of weather soundings in the lower atmosphere increased from approximately 140 soundings to more than 800 a week.

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