Notes from the Field

Peek Inside the P-3 Flying Laboratory

November 22nd, 2017 by Kathryn Hansen


NASA’s DC-8 is usually the aircraft flown from South America to Antarctica for the IceBridge mission’s annual research flights over the continent. But this year, the DC-8 was booked for a different mission, so NASA’s P-3 filled in. Since late October, the P-3 crew and instrument operators have been making flights out of Ushuaia, Argentina, to map Antarctica’s ice.

The scenery outside is stunning and the amount of data collected enormous. But as often as people ask about Antarctica and the mission’s science goals, people also want to know about P-3. As the following images show, this is not your typical aircraft.

Here’s a peek inside the P-3 flying research laboratory, from front to back.

The NASA P-3 sits on the ramp at the airport in Ushuaia, Argentina. Photo by Aaron Wells/Indiana University.

NASA pilot Jay Stapleton waits to fly. Pilots work in shifts during the nine-plus hour flights.

NOAA pilot Patrick Didier flies the P-3 during the November 12, 2017, flight over the Larsen C ice shelf.

John Sonntag, NASA IceBridge mission scientist, monitors data collected during a research flight on November 12, 2017.

IceBridge project scientist Nathan Kurtz (front), and Dennis Gearhart of the Digital Mapping System (DMS) team (back) monitor imagery acquired during the research flight on November 14, 2017.

The view from the back of the P-3 shows how the aircraft has been modified to support racks of computers and science equipment.


One Response to “Peek Inside the P-3 Flying Laboratory”

  1. Rob Smit says:

    Thank you NASA for the wonderful Earth Observatory website, your quality commentary, and the insights you offer on bith near (the P-3 for instance) and far… Very very good.