Best Practices for Aerial Research

Published: 22 November 2021

ARM Aerial Facility helps build collaboration among U.S. agencies

Wearing sunglasses, a bright yellow safety vest, and jeans, Lexie Goldberger stands next to an aircraft.
During the November 2021 Interagency Coordinating Committee for Airborne Geosciences Research and Applications (ICCAGRA) meeting, ARM airborne instrument mentor Lexie Goldberger was nominated to be the organization’s vice-chair. Photo is by Matt Newburn, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Numerous federal agencies and programs operate research aircraft, but they do not do it in a vacuum.

Since the late 1990s, an organization has provided resources to senior management officials on airborne research issues. The Interagency Coordinating Committee for Airborne Geosciences Research and Applications (ICCAGRA) was established to improve cooperation, foster awareness, and facilitate communication among the partner agencies with airborne platforms and instruments for geoscience research within the U.S. government.

Moreover, says Atmospheric Radiation Measurement (ARM) Aerial Facility (AAF) Manager Beat Schmid, ICCAGRA enhances collaboration and encourages communication between member agencies whose airborne platforms and instrument payloads and applications are pertinent to the research community. “This group is focused on sharing best practices, expertise in program management and safety, and sharing resources and providing mutual assistance.”

The AAF has taken several leadership roles in ICCAGRA over the years. From 2008 to 2012, AAF Engineering Manager Jason Tomlinson served as chair for the organization, which includes NASA, the Office of Naval Research, NOAA, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the National Science Foundation.

In early November 2021, Schmid updated ICCAGRA members on ARM activities. Topics included the ArcticShark uncrewed aerial system (UAS), modifications to the Bombardier Challenger 850 research aircraft, and the tethered balloon system program, which is managed by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico.

“There’s a lot of interest and excitement about the resumption of our UAS program,” says Schmid. “We’re back in the air and moving forward toward the active use of the ArcticShark for atmospheric observations.”

ARM airborne instrument mentor Lexie Goldberger has taken a leadership role with ICCAGRA since joining the organization shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite limitations on travel, she most recently served as secretary. During the November meeting, she was nominated for the role of ICCAGRA vice-chair.

“ICCAGRA has an important function, and that’s bringing all these different agencies together,” says Goldberger, who adds that her role is allowing her to be an advocate for aspiring scientists. “During the pandemic, the opportunities for students at these agencies have been limited, so I gave a presentation about student activities and how we think about supporting these students. It is important because they represent the next generation of scientists.”

ICCAGRA members meet twice a year. Over the past decade, they have established a set of best practices for standardizing data formats from airborne platforms and standardizing aircraft telemetry data.

In recent years, ICCAGRA has fostered collaborations with other organizations—namely the EUropean Facility for Airborne Research (EUFAR)—for better integration of instruments on any airborne platform within the United States or Europe.

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Author: Mike Wasem, Staff Writer, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

ARM is a DOE Office of Science user facility operated by nine DOE national laboratories, including Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.