MIT Flies a High-Tech Test Plane With the U.S. Air Force
'Hannah' runs communications experiments
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology operates a heavily-modified Boeing 707-321B, which it calls “Hannah,” as a communications and sensor testbed in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force.
Photos of Hannah are rare. Rich Barnett snapped two new ones on April 14, 2017 at Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts.
Hannah, which wears the civil registration N404PA, flew with Pan Am for many years starting in 1965 before being purchased by the Air Force and converted into a testbed in 2001. Currently, it’s operated by a joint venture between the Air Force’s 350th Electronic Systems Wing and MIT’s Lincoln Labs.
Flying under the radio callsign “Research 4 Papa Alpha,” Hannah tests airborne battle management, command, control and communication technology and concepts. A U.S. Air Force release provided some detail back in 2004, at a time when Hannah went by the name “Paul Revere.”
Paul Revere […] is the name given to a task force of Air Force, Department of Defense workers and government contractors flying in a contracted government Boeing 707, allowing warfighters to experiment with and test the latest communication technology. …
Task Force Paul Revere, an airborne battle management command, control and communications application, helps makes testing machine-to-machine capabilities and global communication experiments possible by sending and receiving data between other airborne and space sensors and the Combined Air and Space Operations Center. This capability could allow United States and coalition warfighters from all services to simultaneously communicate from around the globe.
Currently, aircraft such as the Rivet Joint, Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System, U-2 or Airborne Warning and Control System take in information that is saved on disks, analyzed and manually sent to warfighters and planners. Today’s output bandwidth from these aircraft is limited. Task Force Paul Revere experiments with the capability of taking in information from ground, space and air assets and simultaneously and instantly sending the information back out on a global network. …
Though the plane is maintained and flown by lab workers, the aircraft and everything on it belongs to the U.S. government.
“It’s part of a contract we have,” said Dr. Joe Chapa, associate group leader at the lab. “Everything bought or developed for this aircraft belongs to the government. Our main mission is to be a learning organization and then transition the lessons learned to the government.”
The Paul Revere is just one application of the aircraft. Many initiatives are being, and have been, tested aboard the 707 with the help of Task Force Paul Revere.
“We like to think of this flying laboratory as a Mr. Potato Head,” Dr. Chapa said. “We can put a different nose or a different eye on.”
According to MIT, in the summer of 2008 Hannah carried out secure extremely high frequency satellite communications tests. In June 2009, the flying laboratory was involved in demonstrating next-generation antenna for airborne communication with Milstar satellites.
A big thank you to Rich Barnett for allowing us to use his photographs. Visit his Flickr photostream. This story originally appeared at The Aviationist.