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NASA Planes Coming To Baltimore

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(Credit: courtesy of NASA)

(Credit: courtesy of NASA)

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Derek Valcourt began working at WJZ in September 2002. His first major...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Marylanders are being warned to be on the lookout as their planes fly as low as 1,000 feet over some major Maryland roads in the coming month. It’s all part of a major plan by NASA to help study air pollution over major cities.

Derek Valcourt explains where you’ll be seeing some of those low-flying planes.

Initial test flights began Tuesday as NASA prepares to study air pollution over Baltimore’s Beltway, the 95 corridor, and even over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

This special NASA aircraft will call BWI home for the next month and its pilots want drivers warned. Throughout July they’ll fly low, sometimes as low as 1,000 feet off the ground over Maryland roadways.

“So if you are kind of expecting it or knowing that the mission is occurring it is going to be less of a shock value of oh there’s an airplane,” said NASA research pilot, Mike Singer.

Singer is an important part of a special NASA science mission detecting air pollution over the Baltimore-Washington area.

NASA satellites already monitor air pollution across the globe, but those readings don’t give scientists enough information.

“A satellite is unable to distinguish currently whether the pollution is above your head or down where you’re breathing,” said NASA Atmospheric scientist, Dr. James Crawford.

That’s where this plane comes in, flying over busy Maryland roadways and then flying in spiral patterns over six specific ground based monitoring stations.

While the flight is in the air, all this high tech equipment on the plane will be collecting lots of data about how many pollutants are in the air at different altitudes.

Scientists say that information will help provide better air quality forecasts in the future.

The Maryland Department of Environment’s network of pollution monitoring stations on the ground will play a key role in the study.

“Maryland has put that structure in place. In a sense they’ve earned us coming here by doing such a good job over the years of studying the problem,” said Crawford.

While the research is important, mission pilots say it’s even more important that Maryland drivers keep their eyes on the road and not on the plane overhead.

“I would say that it’s noticeable but certainly not menacing or threatening; however it’s still a distraction to drivers,” said Singer

NASA says in all they expect 14 science flights in July. They will be taking their planes from the Washington Beltway over Baltimore and up to Northeastern Maryland near the Delaware line.

The flight dates will be determined by the weather and announced by NASA by 5pm the day before a flight.

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