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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

UWyo Magazine

January 2015 | Vol. 16, No. 2

New Heights

Assistant Professor Jeff French and UW’s King Air Research aircraft take science and outreach to the skies.

By Micaela Myers

What exactly makes a storm produce rain so hard it causes flash flooding, and how can we better predict these events? Questions like these are exactly what researcher and Assistant Professor Jeff French and other atmospheric scientists study using UW’s King Air research aircraft.

French, a native of Rapid City, S.D., earned his doctorate in atmospheric science at UW in 1998 and went on to work for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration before returning to UW in 2006 as the King Air project manager, a position he held until recently, when he shifted his focus to teaching while continuing his research with the plane.

“As project manager, I worked with scientists at UW and across the globe on deployments to research various weather-related problems and scientific questions,” French says.

Meeting clouds, up close: French’s research focuses on cloud physics. “I’m interested in the development of precipitation in clouds, looking at different processes that lead to the growth of precipitation. Our platform is quite unique because we have the radar and lidar, which give us information at the aircraft, as well as away from it.”

The Wyoming Cloud Radar was transformative for airborne atmospheric science. “The radar allowed us for the first time to look at clouds away from the aircraft at a very high resolution,” French says. “The work that Professor Zhien Wang has done in the last six to eight years developing the Wyoming Cloud Lidar—an airborne observational system for the study of cloud structure and composition—has been the second major transformation.”

The Department of Atmospheric Science is best known for cloud physics, French says, having its roots in cloud seeding for precipitation augmentation. But the science has evolved and broadened significantly to look at the entire hydrological cycle. “We’ve also branched out into cloud dynamics and into understanding air quality.”

Changing technology: “Our current aircraft is nearly 40 years old. Over the course of 40 years, technologies change significantly,” French says of the need to look toward a new plane in the coming years. “In addition, the plane does have a finite life to it. We purposely fly this plane through flight profiles that are a lot of stress on the airframe. The new King Airs have greater endurance and capability.”

UW ambassador: In addition to conducting important research, the King Air plane serves as an outreach tool for the state and the university. “We go all over the world with this aircraft,” French says. “Almost every project we go to, we have opportunities to meet with local media, school groups and the public. We take students through the plane and talk about the type of work we do to hopefully get them interested in science at a young age.”


King Air Facts:

  • The current King Air plane (N2UW) began its service in 1977.
  • N2UW is the third aircraft owned by UW—the first beginning in 1966.
  • Since 1987, the Department of Atmospheric Science has operated N2UW under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation. During that time, more than $50 million in external funding has been generated directly or indirectly related to the airplane.
  • Between 2004 and 2013, N2UW supported 30 field campaigns, 17 in the northern Rocky Mountain region.
  • In the next three to five years, N2UW will need to be replaced. This is due to the lifetime limit on the airframe, the heavy weather the plane has flown in and technological limitations.
  • UW hopes to replace N2UW with a Beechcraft King Air 350 (dubbed R2UW for Replacement 2UW), which offers more capable engines, a larger payload, longer range and endurance, and FAA-approved mission-specific modifications.
  • R2UW would continue to study water resources, as well as air quality, wind and other aspects of the earth-climate system.

Jeff French

Jeff French
“As project manager, I worked with scientists at UW and across the globe on deployments to research various weather-related problems and scientific questions,” French says.

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The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of the University of Wyoming


About UWyo

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UWyo Magazine
University of Wyoming
Dept. 3226
1000 East University Ave.
Laramie, WY 82071-2000
Phone: 307-766-2379
TTY: 307-766-6729
Email: uwyomag@uwyo.edu

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