The Geostationary Earth Radiation Budget Intercomparison of Longwave and Shortwave radiation (GERBILS) was an observational field experiment over North Africa during June 2007. The campaign involved 10 flights by the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM) BAe-146 research aircraft over southwestern parts of the Sahara Desert and coastal stretches of the Atlantic Ocean. Primary objectives were to characterise the microphysical and optical properties of mineral dust and to use these observations to develop and validate satellite retrievals and model simulations of mineral dust. This Special Section includes eight papers that document the results from the GERBILS experiment. We would like to thank Prof. Ellie Highwood who acted with extreme professionalism as associate editor for this Special Section, and Prof. John Thuburn in his role as editor. We would also like to thank the staff of FAAM, the pilots and ground staff of Direct Flight Ltd and the engineers of Avalon Engineering for their dedication in planning and executing the GERBILS measurement campaign. Mr Boukari, the head of Niamey ATC, is thanked for providing a thoroughly professional service for the aircraft.