Researchers at NASA have commenced testing of alternative biofuels on engine performance, emissions and aircraft-generated contrails onboard its DC-8 flying laboratory.

As part of the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions (ACCESS) research, the aircrafts are flown as high as 40,000ft with an instrumented NASA Falcon HU-25 aircraft trailing behind, at a distance of 300ft to over 10 miles.

NASA’s Fixed Wing project manager Ruben Del Rosario remarked that the studies will improve the agency’s understanding of contrails formation and quantify potential benefits of renewable alternate fuels in terms of aviation’s impact on the environment.

The research flights are being staged from NASA’s Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale, California with aircraft powered by JP-8 jet fuel, or a 50-50 blend of JP-8 and an alternative fuel of hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids that comes from camelina plants.

Instruments mounted on the Falcon HU-25 will characterize the soot and gases streaming from the DC-8, monitor the way exhaust plumes change in composition as they mix with air, and investigate the role emissions play in contrail formation.

The testing is phase one of the ACCESS research with an additional stage, including more extensive set of measurements, expected to be undertaken in 2014.

The research is a joint initiative of researchers at Dryden, NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and NASA’s Langley Research Center