The US-based High-Performance Instrumented Airborne Platform for Environmental Research (Hiaper) aircraft is centrepiece of a huge, multi-national scientific study centred on the South Island over the next two months.
Deepwave project sets out to unravel the mysteries of gravity waves, a vital but little-understood atmospheric element.
Gravity waves form when winds strike a large obstacle (such as a mountain range), sending ripples hundreds of kilometres across land and water, and vertically into the atmosphere.
The Southern Alps are considered a "hot spot" for gravity waves, as the seasonal positioning of the southern circumpolar jet system over them creates strong gravity waves.
"Because there are no other influences from terrain, you get a smooth flow on the western side right across the Southern Ocean and, when they hit the Southern Alps, you get the uplifting effect."
Within these waves (which can reach heights of 100km), the jet will fly 20 missions at up to 12,800m, extending across to Tasmania and deep into the subantarctic Southern Ocean.
The Deepwave project will be based at Christchurch Intl.Airport.