Lockheed Martin pilot Dee Porter climbs up the ladder wearing a heavy tan pressure suit, preparing to board NASA ER-2 #809 at Kiruna, Sweden, for the third flight in the SAGE III Ozone Loss and Validation Experiment. Assisting him is Jim Sokolik, a Lockheed Martin life support technician. Number 809, one of Dryden's two high-flying ER-2 Airborne Science aircraft, a civilian variant of Lockheed's U-2, and another NASA flying laboratory, Dryden's DC-8, were based north of the Arctic Circle in Kiruna, Sweden during the winter of 2000 to study ozone depletion as part of the SAGE III Ozone Loss and Validation Experiment (SOLVE). A large hangar built especially for research, "Arena Arctica" housed the instrumented aircraft and the scientists. Scientists have observed unusually low levels of ozone over the Arctic during recent winters, raising concerns that ozone depletion there could become more widespread as in the Antarctic ozone hole. The NASA-sponsored international mission took place between November 1999 and March 2000 and was divided into three phases. The DC-8 was involved in all three phases returning to Dryden between each phase. The ER-2 flew sample collection flights between January and March, remaining in Sweden from Jan. 9 through March 16. "The collaborative campaign will provide an immense new body of information about the Arctic stratosphere," said program scientist Dr. Michael Kurylo, NASA Headquarters. "Our understanding of the Earth's ozone will be greatly enhanced by this research." ER-2s bearing tail numbers 806 and 809 are used as airborne science platforms by NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center. The aircraft are platforms for a variety of high-altitude science missions flown over various parts of the world. They are also used for earth science and atmospheric sensor research and development, satellite calibration and data validation. The ER-2s are capable of carrying a maximum payload of 2,600 pounds of experiments in a nose bay, the main equipment bay behind the cockpit, two wing-mounted superpods and small underbody and trailing edges. Most ER-2 missions last about six hours with ranges of about 2,200 nautical miles. The aircraft typically fly at altitudes above 65,000 feet. On November 19, 1998, an ER-2 set a world record for medium weight aircraft reaching an altitude of 68,700 feet. The aircraft is 63 feet long, with a wingspan of 104 feet. The top of the vertical tail is 16 feet above ground when the aircraft is on the bicycle-type landing gear. Cruising speeds are 410 knots, or 467 miles per hour, at altitude. A single General Electric F-118 turbofan engine rated at 17,000 pounds thrust powers the ER-2.