HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Seeing military aircraft flying the skies of the Tennessee Valley is a normal, practically daily occurrence.
One aircraft that can be seen is a Boeing Chinook with an orange piece of equipment hanging below. It's outfitted with a large water tank and a water boom that can spray water, said Adam Cowan, a Redstone Test Center experimental test pilot.
It's all a part of the HISS, or Helicopter Icing Spray System. The Army needs to know if its helicopters can handle icy conditions, and that's where the HISS comes in.
"It's important because we need to ensure that all of our equipment is working properly. It's also important because we need to make sure our air crews arrive proficient in the task," said Cowan.
Cowan has been flying the airplane that collects data from the ice clouds the Chinook's water boom makes for four years now. He's been with RTC for nine years.
"Sampling behind the HISS behind the cloud, we dip only one wing in the cloud. It's very challenging. It requires a lot of stick and rudder skills," said Cowan.
But before they even start to make the ice clouds in the cold air of Michigan, they start with prep work here in the Tennessee Valley.
"In preparation for our deployment up to Michigan, folks in the Tennessee Valley area may see us flying overhead. We're testing our equipment out. We're making sure all the components are functioning properly. We're also training the crew members so they're proficient before we actually go up to Michigan," said Cowan.
You may also see a liquid coming from the orange system.
"It's just water. There's no additives. It's just water right out of the tap," said Cowan.
It leads up to what Michigan residents will see throughout the winter months.
"The HISS will then launch with the test aircraft. The HISS would start spraying it's cloud. The support aircraft will then sample the characteristics, if you will, of the cloud," said Cowan.
Then, the test aircraft will stay in cloud anywhere from five to 45 minutes. At that point, it's evaluating how ice attaches itself to the router system, fuselage, and how ice sheds from aircraft.
"It's very difficult to fly a fixed winged aircraft at a low airspeed close formation to another aircraft spraying water. I'm still learning," Cowan said.