Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cloud-seeding captain aims to ‘make this desert green’

Although dwarfed by the other planes, the eight-seater Beechcraft King Air C90 commands a central role in the weather patterns of the UAE.

“When it rained two or three weeks ago we made it rain even more,” said Capt Brendon Allen, 38, who pilots one of the six cloud-seeding Beechcraft operated by the National Centre of Meteorology and Seismology.

The eight-seater propeller plane had been modified by the centre to shoot rain-inducing flares into clouds on the edge of releasing their moisture, and it was on show at the opening day of the Abu Dhabi Air Expo.

The airport opened its gates and landing strips to the public on Tuesday as it hosted the third annual expo.

The three-day outdoor aviation exhibition features 175 aviation manufacturers displaying the latest trends and innovations in aircraft manufacturing.

Leading private aviation companies, including Boeing, Airbus and Gulfstream, displayed over 100 planes on the airport’s tarmac.

Flying out of Al Ain and Al Bateen airports the modified aircraft used for cloud-seeding are sent into rough weather at a moment’s notice.

“We just give the clouds a nudge,” said Capt Allen, a former South African air force pilot who began flying in the UAE more than six years ago.

Capt Allen, who worked for more than five years as a flight instructor in Al Ain, said the weather airlines usually avoid were the conditions he and his fellow pilots flew toward.

“People who fly into hurricanes, they’re crazy.

“As we fly straight into thunderstorms, we’re just a bit disturbed.”

He added that the design of the sturdy design Beechcraft was ideal for flying into turbulent weather.

“When you fly into clouds that are 50,000 feet high that contain billions of gallons of water, you learn to respect weather.”

In the UAE’s arid climate, cloud-seeding is essential to increase the water table and provide farmers with much-needed water.

“Sometimes people ask me if I can make it rain on their farm or house,” said Capt Allen, adding that weather patterns where too unpredictable to control the areas it rained over.

But he said projects such as cloud-seeding provided valuable data which were the building blocks for controlling weather in the future.

“There are places it rains too much and people die, and there are places where it doesn’t rain at all and people starve,” said Capt Allen, who believes the long-term goal should be to move weather where it wasn’t wanted to where it was.

“I believe one day we’ll be able to make this desert green.”

While displaying the aircraft Capt Allen was asked by 10 year-old visitor Sammy Zain whether creating more rain would prove to be a problem on the roads of the UAE.

“I don’t think for one moment I’m endangering anybody. We don’t control the weather, and the benefit to the country as a whole far outweighs the tiny bit of risk.”

The other aircraft on display featured ultralight business jets to weightier planes, such as Gulfstream’s G650. Priced at more than $US64.5 million (Dh237 million), it will take you from Abu Dhabi to the company’s headquarters in Savannah, Georgia in 14 hours in fine style.

On the larger end of the business jet spectrum came the Boeing corporate jet, a modified 737 seating between 25 and 50 passengers with the original design seating up to 215, and the largest narrow body corporate jet, the Airbus ACJ231.

Visitors were also treated to an aeronautical display by the UAE’s Al Fursan Aerobatic team and Emirates Sky Diving team while having the opportunity to view the “Paper Planes” Art Exhibition by Sheikha Al Yazia bint Nahyan Al Nahyan at the Gulf Centre for Aviation Studies.

“The private aviation market is witnessing tremendous growth in Abu Dhabi and the wider region,” said Ali Majed Al Mansoori, chairman of Abu Dhabi Airports.

“Abu Dhabi is fast becoming a regional leader in the aviation industry, and we are very pleased to once again host a first-class general aviation exhibition in the capital.”
Story and photo: http://www.thenational.ae

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