Making a welcome appearance this week at the 2019 Paris Air Show is an example of a French-style icon that is performing important work in the effort to understand climate change 43 years after it was first delivered for the task. Registered D-CMET, the specially modified Dassault Falcon 20E-5 has been operated by the Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, German Aerospace Center) at Oberpfaffenhofen since delivery from the Dassault factory in 1976.
To permit the aircraft to undertake atmospheric and climate research tasks, D-CMET was the subject of a number of modifications. A nose boom with integrated flow probe was added to measure air inflow velocity and direction, while three windows were installed for use with atmospheric sensors such as LIDAR and a side window for infrared and microwave sensors. Various hardpoints are available under the wings and fuselage for attaching sensor pods and particle measurement systems, and there are four openings in the upper cabin for air sampling.
Despite its years, the Falcon 20 is young for an airframe, having been used only sparingly. The type is highly regarded for airframe sturdiness, with its structural integrity giving crews confidence when flying missions in turbulent air, such as when flying directly behind another aircraft.
The aircraft entered the public spotlight in 2010 after the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull closed European airspace, flying sampling missions in and around the ash cloud. In so doing, it became one of only a handful of aircraft to fly during the shutdown and it was instrumental in declaring the airspace safe for the resumption of services.
Since then the aircraft has flown on various test programs around the world, including missions over Antarctica. Its onboard systems allow the measurement of trace gases and aerosols, while samples can be taken for laboratory research. A key mission is to research the effects of aircraft on atmospheric composition.