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Hundreds Tour NCAR Planes Studying Front Range Air Quality

BROOMFIELD, Colo. (CBS4) - Three research aircraft have been flying over the Front Range the last few weeks -- sometimes at only about 1,000 feet. The flights are testing Colorado's air quality and sparking a lot of curiosity.

On Saturday hundreds got to see the planes up close at the National Center for Atmospheric Research Aviation Facility at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport in Broomfield.

(credit: CBS)

Scientists call the planes flying laboratories. Inside, instead of rows of seats there are rows of scientific instruments.

"We have about 20 different instruments on the plane," a scientist said on the tour.

"We have an open house today to kind of engage the public a little bit," Principle Investigator Frank Flocke said.

Flocke said the planes are trying to find out what factors play into the air we breathe, and eventually how to make it better.

"We have seen some surprises but it's a little bit too early to talk about," Flocke said.

He said the machines are sensitive enough to tell the difference between the output from a power plant and a nail salon.

"They are measuring hundreds of different gases that contribute to kind of the whole air quality picture in the region," Flocke said.

He said the open house was held to explain to the public what they're doing and why they've been seeing them flying so low.

"We had a lot of people that were concerned about us flying low and such things," Flocke said.

Researchers will be in the skies through the middle of August measuring and testing air as they fly and hope to have a report for the public by the end of the year.

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