SARP 2012 Week 2: Students fly on the NASA P-3B

The second week of SARP began bright and early with a 5:40AM departure from the hotel for the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF) in order to prepare for the 8AM takeoff of our first SARP flight.
After a 6:30AM preflight briefing by the P-3 pilots and crew, the first flight took off at 8AM with all of the Ustin group onboard.  The goal of this flight was to calibrate the MASTER instrument over Lake Tahoe (flying several lines at different altitudes over temperature targets) and to test all of the other instruments (AVOCET, WAS, and the UH instruments).  Onboard the P-3, the Ustin group got the opportunity to learn about and and assist in the operation of all of the instruments.  The flight was very smooth and the group returned with broad smiles after their 3-hour flight.

Flight track (in red) from the June 25th morning flight.

After lunch, the second flight (and first science flight) took off with half of the Blake group and half of the Kudela group onboard.  Thanks to our meteorologist, Dr. Fuelberg, we knew that the Santa Barbara Channel was going to be very clear and that we had the opportunity to collect fabulous, cloud-free data.

Altitude profile for the afternoon flight on June 25.  Note the low altitude over the LAX runway

Flight track (in red) for the June 25th afternoon flight. 

Those of us on the ground were able to chat with those onboard via a text-chatting application called x-chat.  Dr. Sherry Palacios, the ocean group mentor who was onboard the P-3, provided frequent updates about what was going on inside the plane.  After all of the science goals of the flight were completed (including a missed-approach over LAX, samples of clean marine air off of the coast and polluted air from the LA basin, and flight lines over the Santa Barbara Channel), the pilots gave all onboard a special treat by letting them experience zero gravity (for just a second).

At the end-of-day postflight briefing, everyone who flew for the first time received an Airborne Science Program pin from our pilot in a special ceremony.

Fortune smiled on us yet again with clear weather over the Santa Barbara Channel!  After a group shot in front of the P-3, the first flight of the day took off for Santa Barbara.  After takeoff, the Ustin group left Palmdale to drive to Delano, CA for their field trip.

SARP 2012 group shot in front of the P-3 before takeoff on June 26, 2012

Flight track (in red) for the morning flight on June 26

The afternoon flight was extremely bumpy because most of it took place below the boundary layer.  The P-3 also flew 6 missed approaches over airports in the Los Angeles Basin on this flight!  Upon their return, many SARPians looked a little green but everyone was very excited about the amount of data that was collected.

Altitude profile for the afternoon flight on June 26.  Note the six low altitude passes over Los Angeles area airports

Flight track (in red) for the afternoon flight on June 26

The Ustin group was in the field at a vineyard in Delano, CA taking ground-truth measurements while the P-3 flew overhead collecting remote sensing data with MASTER during both the morning and afternoon flights. 

Flight track (in red) for the morning flight on June 27

The P-3 as seen from a vineyard near Delano, CA (Image Credit: Kate Garner)

The Ustin group prepares for the P-3 overflight (Image Credit: Kate Garner)

In addition to the MASTER lines over the vineyards, we also collected air samples and air quality measurements over dairies, cow feedlots and oil fields in California’s Central Valley.

Flight track of the final SARP science flight (afternoon of June 27)

“Houston, we have cows.”  A cow feedlot in the California Central Valley as seen from the P-3

At the end of our final flight, our pilots treated us yet again to a brief zero gravity experience. 

The SARP faculty, mentors and students were all thrilled with how much data was collected during the six SARP flights!

One group (the Aquanauts) decided to forgo sleeping in so that they could watch an early ER-2 takeoff.  The ER-2 flies at such high altitudes (~70,000ft) that the pilot has to wear a spacesuit.  We watched as the pilot emerged from his life support vehicle, climbed aboard the ER-2 and took off.

SARP participants pose next to the ER-2

ER-2 pilot taps the nose of the plane for good luck
Later in the day, the P-3 departed the DAOF for its home in Virginia at the NASA Wallops Flight Facility.  We are so grateful to the P-3 pilots and crew for such fantastic flights and for making this experience possible!

After packing up and checking out of the hotel in Palmdale, the Blake, Lefer, and Kudela groups departed for the Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC).  Just outside the entrance to Edwards Air Force Base (DFRC is inside Edwards), we met up with the Ustin group who had left their field site in Delano, CA very early in the morning.  Once at DFRC, we were treated to a rare, behind the scenes tour that included the Global Hawk Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) and the Global Hawk control center.  We were also given an up close look at Dryden’s research fighter aircraft and many history-making aircraft such as the X-1E.

SARP 2012 poses by the X-1E

After lunch and a stop at the Dryden giftshop, all of SARP headed for the University of California Irvine, our new home for the next six weeks where students will analyze and interpret the data they collected onboard the P-3 Orion.