|Unique Aircraft Disappears from New Mexico |
Unique Aircraft Disappears from New Mexico
Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico -- April 19, 2001 (AFPN) -- A unique flying research laboratory disappeared from New Mexico on April 18.
The C-135E aircraft, known as Argus and sporting its distinctive Tasmanian devil nose décor, was flown to the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where it will be stored to await its final disposition. It flew its last data-gathering mission last summer, conducting atmospheric tests for the airborne laser program.
The Argus flight test program was a unique opportunity for the Air Force Research Laboratory, allowing its highly skilled scientists and engineers to take technological developments from the laboratory and test them in the field, according to Capt. Craig Phillips, Argus mission operations chief. This flying research laboratory not only supported the Department of Defense but also the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy and the airborne laser system program office.
"Its biggest capability was to provide a low-cost airborne platform for research and development," Phillips said. "Flight costs were very competitive with others because of Air Force flight and operations crews."
It was the only Air Force C-135E capable of flying extended missions up to 50,000 feet above the Earth's surface making it unique in the Air Force inventory, according to Phillips.
The Argus program officially began in 1986 to collect data on rocket plume phenomena, re-entry vehicle signatures, kill assessments and sensor checkout for the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, the forerunner to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. The program and aircraft are named after a many-eyed vigilant Greek mythological character who could see everything.
Phillips said one of its most important missions was to conduct treaty verification flights for the Defense Nuclear Agency in 1990. Major upgrades that year qualified it for ultraviolet, visible, mid-wave and long-wave infrared imaging and spectroscopy.
The current aircraft arrived here in 1990 and was owned and operated by Detachment 2 of the 452nd flight Test Squadron. The Air Force Research Laboratory directed energy directorate's active remote sensing branch of the advanced optics and imaging division managed the data gathering and analysis program.
Although the 40-year-old aircraft may have left Kirtland, the mission may remain here, said Lt. Col. Christopher S. Washer, branch chief.
"We are exploring leasing aircraft from other programs here as there will always be a need for our expertise," he said. (Courtesy of Air Force Materiel Command News Service)