Why that NASA aircraft is flying along Interstate 95

During the next 12 days, you may notice a NASA flight overhead. No, it’s not heading into outer space — more like the space above Interstate 95.

A NASA aircraft will fly over the I-95 corridor from D.C. to Baltimore between July 5 and July 16. The four-engine turboprop P-3 aircraft is an airborne science laboratory.

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The plane will be collecting atmospheric data over the variable surfaces along the flight path, including urban, rural, vegetation and water.

The former U.S. Navy patrol aircraft has been modified by NASA and is based at Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.

The P-3 will fly five days during the 12-day period.

According to NASA, each flight will include one low-level pass at 1,000 feet over I-95, as well as two ascending and descending spiral tracks over Baltimore, and one spiral track over Greenbelt, Maryland.

The P-3 aircraft is fueled on NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility main base runway in Virginia. (NASA/Wallops)

Additional P-3 flights will be conducted in Virginia, including a spiral over Hampton, Virginia, and a 1,000-foot pass over the Chesapeake Bay.

NASA says the flight path was selected to correspond with ground instrumentation and previous NASA science flights. The newly-collected data will be compared with other instruments and time periods.

The P-3 can be tracked in real-time at NASA Airborne Science Program Tracker. Look for the plane icon labeled NASA P-3 (N426NA). Also, flight updates will be available via the Wallops Facebook and Twitter sites.

The day before a flight, Wallops will post the estimated time the P-3 aircraft will fly over the I-95 corridor and Hampton, according to NASA.

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