Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA)

Miles Bowen

Originally published July 1998

This month's program was a presentation on the Advanced Range Instrumentation Aircraft (ARIA) program given by our very own Project Police Officer Bill Grahn.

The ARIA fulfills three roles: Orbital Support, Air Vehicle Support, and Optics Support. In Orbital Support the ARIA provides data telemetry, data processing, and real-time data relay for orbital vehicles in areas where ground tracking stations are not available. Much of this role has been taken over by satellite-based systems. In Air Vehicle Support, ARIA is used to observe (and sometimes provide range safety for) cruise missiles. In Optics Support, ARIA is used to observe and photograph ballistic missile reentry vehicles.

The ARIA aircraft are the responsibility of the 452nd Flight Test Squadron, which has the distinction of being the only squadron in the Air Force assigned a balloon. The two aircraft types used for the ARIA missions are the EC-135 and the EC-18. The EC-135 is a modified tanker, while the EC-18 is a modified American Airlines 707-320C. The two types are very similar other than some minor dimensional and flying quality differences. The most obvious feature of both aircraft is the bulbous nose housing a 7-foot S-Band telemetry antenna, which is the worlds largest steerable airborne antenna. Other features common to both aircraft are HF antennas for radio communication, and a small radome on top of the fuselage for data transmission via satellite.

The presentation was topped off with a tour of one of the ARIA aircraft which had been parked on the flight line behind the Test Pilot School. This airplane was an EC-18, one of the converted airline 707s. Besides all of the oohing and aahing over the neat equipment, there was an extensive discussion of the "Military Airplane Smell" that had permeated the airplane. We suspect that this is a Mil Spec odor that is required to be installed in all military aircraft by regulation. Probably comes in little cans at high prices.

Thank you Bill Grahn for a very interesting and informative program.

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Revised -- 19 March 1999