European Facility For Airborne Research

European Facility For Airborne Research Aug. 10, 2022, 01:29

Future of the Fleet

The N3FF Activity

The N3FF Activity under EUFAR2 aims to promote the coordinated use and development of the European airborne research infrastructures by defining the guidelines that provide a forward look on user needs and direct progress beyond the capabilities of the existing fleet.

It is built upon a heritage that comes from:

  • the previous EUFAR activity, when high priority was given to ensure access to a stratospheric aircraft;
  • the results of the Preparatory Phase study COPAL whose objective was to foster the provision of a heavy payload and long endurance research aircraft capable of operation in remote areas: these results encourage the continual search for a long-term solution that may consist of both acquiring a common European platform, and/or gaining access to “industrial testing platforms” provided by industry players interested in joint ventures;
  • finally, the development of new capabilities offered by the use of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for Earth Science research.
  • Following these three main lines, the working group dedicated to this activity will:
  • explore the possibility of gaining access to existing extra-European stratospheric research aircraft, or to develop and maintain an autonomous European capability to operate a stratospheric platform;
  • coordinate efforts with the COPAL MoU partners in order to promote the availability of a heavy-payload research aircraft platform;
  • carry out a survey of current atmospheric research with UAS, highlighting their advantages, benefits, obstacles and difficulties relative to their operation, in order to eventually develop their integration in the framework of EUFAR.

In parallel, the N3FF activity will seek to evaluate the performance of the current fleet in response to user needs and identify gaps via a series of online surveys targeting scientific users of airborne research infrastructures. This will ensure that there is an update of the needs of the EUFAR user scientific community, enriching the results of the previous survey carried out during EUFAR FP7.

For more information on the EUFAR user needs survey, click here.


The Future of the Fleet activity started in FP6 EUFAR project, when a survey of user requirements emphasised the need for a heavy payload, long endurance aircraft (In the US, there are currently 11 such aircraft available for environmental research). Following that result, in the FP7 Research Infrastructure ESFRI roadmap, a Preparatory Phase study named COPAL was supported with the objective of providing the European scientific community with such an aircraft and defining the structures to manage and operate the facility. At the completion of the study, an interim COPAL MoU was signed between partners to continue the effort toward this objective, by trying to obtain financial commitments from funding agencies, by setting up a permanent legal structure and organisational framework for the management of the aircraft, and finally by commissioning the platform. However, due to the budget cuts in capital spending for research infrastructures, COPAL was unable to raise the necessary funding.

In FP7, the N3FF working group, prompted by a survey of the users demand in terms of airborne infrastructures, focussed on how to gain access to a stratospheric aircraft. Since the operation of a high-altitude aircraft is cost intensive a European integrated approach has been recommended. In the course of the previous EUFAR contract, technical solutions based on existing aircraft have been evaluated. Viable options include a full refurbishment of the already proven Russian M55 Geophysica, and/or granting access to similar NASA platforms.


N3FF Activity Leader
Francesco Cairo
Institute of Atmospheric Sciences & Climate (ISAC)
Italian National Research Council (CNR), Italy

Page last modified on Sept. 12, 2017, 10:46
Back to top
Copyright © 2022 EUFAR All rights reserved.