SARP 2011 – Land Group Field Excursion

By Shawn Kefauver, SARP mentor

Right after the engineering test flight, the Land Team took off for Lost Hills, CA for their field campaign so that they could be ready to go on the ground during the first science overflight.  On the menu was collecting field calibration data for their imagery and also all the extra auxiliary data sets necessary for calculating evapotranspiration of almond and pistachio orchards.  We started off heading directly to our research field house in Kern County just off of I-5 at the Belridge site of Paramount Farms, our partner farm which supplies the field house and a number of almond and pistachio orchards for experiments.  

The land group in the field!

First Dr. Mike Whiting, an assistant research scientist from the CSTARS (Center for Spatial Technologies and Remote Sensing) lab at UC Davis gave a brief introduction of the field crews and study areas of the project.  I then led a short tour of the orchards outside and gave a brief demo on the field protocols for measuring leaf area index using hemispherical lens photography.  

Then we checked into our hotel and enjoyed a nice sit down dinner at the local Mexican grocery and restaurant.  At 6:30 am the next morning, Dr. Susan Ustin met with the team for breakfast and we began our field day right with a good meal. To start the day, we needed to clean off our 30 sq meters of field calibration tarps from the dusty winds the night before.  

Cleaning the field calibration tarps

At 9:30 AM the team split up and half headed out for leaf sampling.  The other half helped with the leaf scanning and thermal calibration data collection at the time of the first overflight.  

Watching the DC-8 fly overhead

At solar noon I headed with my VNIR (Visible and Near Infrared) calibration team to collect spectral reflectance data for empirical line and BRDF (Bidirectional reflectance distribution function) corrections using our portable full range spectroradiometer.  

SARPians use the portable spectroradiometer

In the afternoon the teams switched and in the evening we had a few field data processing demos.  We all went out to take some air samples for the Air Team, and then the LAI (Leaf Area Index) specialization team headed out for an extra hour of hemispherical lens photography to help the CSTARS team catch up on some sunset data collection.  By then we were all ready to go to sleep early after a long day to rest up for an early 4:30 AM departure the next day in order to make the SARP tour of the Dryden Flight Research Center.  

Final SARP 2011 Science Flights!

On June 30, SARP students, mentors, faculty, and staff flew on the DC-8 for the last two science flights of the summer.  Everyone in all three of the research groups had the opportunity to fly on both the morning and afternoon flights (although some decided to pass on the morning flight due to the expected turbulence).

After taking off from Palmdale at 10:30AM, we flew north to the almond orchards and vineyards to acquire MASTER data from 13,000 ft.  We then descended to ~1000 ft and collected air samples over Harris Ranch (a feed lot near I-5 with over 100,000 cattle).  During the Harris Ranch over-flight, the Whole Air team practiced the sampling strategy that they planned to use for the LAX missed approach during the afternoon flight.  Everyone in the Whole Air group had a specific role to play in order to facilitate the rapid collection and recording of the air samples.  The practice sampling run went extremely well.  SARP participants cheered and clapped loudly as we flew away from Harris Ranch.  The pilots later commented that the cheers and excitement they heard from SARP were some of the best they had ever heard from scientists on the DC-8 as a result of collecting data!

Flight track for the June 30, 2011 SARP science flight # 1

Just after 1PM, we flew back to Palmdale, landed, and ate our lunches on the plane on the ground (there wasn’t enough time to get off the plane between the two flights).  At 2:30PM, we took off again for the afternoon flight and flew back to the same almond orchards and vineyards to acquire MASTER data at a different time of day.  Our pilots then contacted LAX to get us into the pattern for our missed approach.  At the preflight briefing, the Whole Air team had explained that they wanted to fly over as much of LA as possible at as low of an altitude as possible.  Typically, when commercial airplanes fly into LAX, air traffic controllers assign them a slow, steady descent to minimize turbulence.  In our case, we wanted to fly low enough over the city (below ~5000 ft) to collect air samples to measure pollution.  The sampling culminated with the missed approach (we flew only ~100 feet over the LAX runway!) 

Flight track for the June 30, 2011 SARP science flight # 2

Elevation profile for the second science flight.  During the LAX missed approach we were only ~100 feet above the runway

Esther collects air samples with the Whole Air Sampler

The sampling strategy that the Whole Air group practiced in the morning flight went perfectly during the missed approach.  The team was thrilled with the number of air samples they collected near LAX!

After the LAX missed approach, we flew out to the Santa Barbara Channel to image kelp beds with MASTER.  We flew back up to 13,000 ft and flew four lines along the coast.  As Dr. Fuelberg predicted, the weather was perfect with no clouds below us at all.

Kelp beds in the Santa Barbara Channel

After all of the data was collected, we headed back toward Palmdale, elated with our successful flights!  Before landing, however, we had a special treat in store for us!  Before the flights, Dan had asked our pilot if it would be possible for us to experience zero gravity in the DC-8.  The pilot said that it wasn’t possible, but that he would be able to do 0.5 G’s followed by 2 G’s.  After we finished collecting data, we strapped ourselves into our seats and the pilot let us all experience 0.5 G’s (Mars gravity).  For a few seconds, we all felt our arms and legs become lighter and were laughing and cheering.  However, all good things come with a price!  We then had to endure 2 G’s as we leveled out (not a pleasant experience!)

After experiencing 0.5 and 2 G’s!

After the landing and our post-flight briefing, we helped unload the plane and headed back to the hotel.  We are so grateful to all the DC-8 pilots and crew who made this incredible experience possible for us over the past week!  Tomorrow we drive back to Irvine where we will be located until the end of SARP.  After relaxing and resting up over the 4th of July weekend, SARP participants will spend the rest of the summer analyzing the data they collected during the past week!

SARP 2011 – First science flights and tours

On Tuesday, the Air and Ocean groups flew onboard the DC-8 for the first two SARP science flights.  The Land group was on the ground in an orchard in the Central Valley as the DC-8 flew overhead collecting MASTER data to measure crop evapotranspiration.  The flyover was at 13,000 ft — so those on the DC-8 couldn’t make out anyone on the ground, but those on the ground definitely saw the DC-8!  After the MASTER data was collected, the DC-8 descended to only ~1500 ft altitude and collected air samples over a number of dairies, feet lots, and ponds in the Central Valley.  Flying so low made it extremely bumpy and a few people felt sick.  

June 28 SARP flight track from the morning flight

During the afternoon flight, we flew a planned missed approach over LAX to collect air samples from water treatment plants near the airport.  We then flew to the Santa Barbara Channel to collect MASTER data over kelp beds.  It was a bit cloudy but we managed to get in some lines near the coast.

June 28 SARP flight track from the afternoon flight

Wednesday started bright and early (4:30AM) for the Land group who had to drive back from Lost Hills to meet the rest of the group at Edwards Air Force Base. 

SARP outside of Edwards Air Force Base

We all drove to the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center (DFRC) inside Edwards AFB where we were treated to an incredible tour.   We were able to go inside the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft (a 747 that carries the Space Shuttle back to Florida when it lands at Edwards).  The inside of the 747 is almost completely empty to cut down on its weight so it can carry the Space Shuttle on its back.  

SARP inside the Shuttle Carrier Aircraft

Julie inside the cockpit of the 747 Shuttle Carrier

We also saw and learned more about the Global Hawks (unmanned aerial vehicles used for airborne science).

SARP participants learn about the Global Hawk

After the tour, many SARPians visited the Dryden gift shop and purchased NASA apparel for themselves and their friends and families.

In the afternoon, we all headed back to Palmdale for a flight and weather brief for tomorrow’s flights and a tour of SOFIA (the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy).  SOFIA is a telescope inside a 747 that shares its hangar with the DC-8.  Dr. Eric Becklin, SOFIA chief science advisor, gave a talk about SOFIA’s capabilities.   We all got to go inside the passenger cabin of SOFIA where the astronomers sit during flights.  A few SARPians were also treated to a special peek inside the cavity that houses the actual telescope.  In order to go inside, they had to put on masks, hairnets, lab coats, and booties.   We are so grateful to Stefan Teufel for allowing us to have this rare opportunity!

Getting ready to go inside the SOFIA telescope cavity

After a long day, tired SARPians returned to the hotel to rest before the final two flights on Thursday.

SARP 2011 Takes Off!

Today all 29 SARP participants flew on the NASA DC-8 for an instrument check flight.

While walking out to the DC-8, we hummed the theme from Top Gun

After a weather briefing from our meteorologist and flight briefings from our pilot and mission manager, we headed out to the DC-8.  We took some group shots in front of the plane (we all wore our SARP t-shirts today!)

Preflight Breifing

SARP participants pose in front of the DC-8 just before takeoff

Inside the DC-8, we all donned our headsets, strapped ourselves into our seats, and took off from the Palmdale Regional Airport.   

Inside the DC-8

The main goal of the flight was to calibrate the MASTER instrument over the Salton Sea.  We also took some air samples with the Whole Air Sampler during the flight.  In addition, we collected air samples over a water treatment plant near the airport in Palmdale just before we landed.  

June 27 SARP flight track

We flew at ~13,000 feet for most of the short (425 mile) flight.  After the flight, the Land group left to drive out to an almond orchard in the Central Valley.  They will be out in the field taking data when we fly over them during tomorrow’s science flights!

SARP 2011 – Weekend adventures

By Sherry Palacios and Shawn Kefauver

When they weren’t reading up on their projects in preparation for next week’s flights, many SARP participants went on hikes this weekend!  

On Saturday, Sherry led a group to Devil’s punchbowl county park.  Zhanna, Julia, Nick Atkins, David, and Michael went on the 7-mile hike to the Devil’s Chair. Daniel and Sherry took it easy and hiked down into the punchbowl to explore the desert streams. They found a delightful desert stream which was a welcome relief at 50 degrees F. 

Much of the ‘hike’ was spent wading in the pool of a waterfall. Daniel was very excited to explore the geology and lamented that he did not have his field scope handy so that he could identify the microscopic particles in the sandstone composite.

SARP on a rock

On Sunday, nine SARP students plus Sherry and Shawn braved the heat to go for a hike at the Saddleback Butte State Park just outside of Lancaster, CA.  We took plenty of water and had a great time exploring the native fauna, flora and rock outcroppings of the area.  Sightings included one fox, one jack rabbit and numerous chipmunks.  There was a skunk in the area which we fortunately did not encounter and only smelled from a distance.  On the way back we all sat down for some tasty Thai food.

SARP 2011 – Preparing for DC-8 flights next week

We loaded up the vans bright and early Thursday morning and headed north for 100 miles from Irvine through Los Angeles and up to Palmdale.  The notorious LA traffic turned out to be a breeze and we made it to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility (DAOF) in Palmdale by 10AM.   The temperature was ~100F – quite the contrast from cool Irvine.  We all got badged and on base (thanks Romo!) and had a tour of the hangar.

Frank Cutler, DC-8 mission manager, gives SARP a tour of the hangar at the DAOF

The DC-8 shares its hangar with SOFIA (a 3-meter telescope inside a 747 optimized for infrared observations)

Thursday afternoon’s lectures at the DAOF included information on instrument integration, data systems, and facility instruments.  In addition, students also got their first look inside of the DC-8.  

Zhanna waves from the DC-8

Kirsten emerges from underneath the DC-8

Friday morning we had lectures on meteorology from Dr. Henry Fuelberg and flight planning by Rick Shetter.  We also watched a DC-8 safety movie (it was similar to the ones shown by the airlines — but quite a bit more involved!)  After the morning’s lectures, we all walked out to the DC-8 (it had been moved outside of the hangar since yesterday).  The Air group worked on bending tubing for the Whole Air Sampler (WAS).  

Esther and Nick bend tubing for the Whole Air Sampler

Megan and Kim carry a “snake” to the plane

The Land and Ocean groups learned more about the MODIS/ASTER airborne simulator (MASTER) remote sensing instrument that they will use for their projects.  Students climbed up inside the belly of the DC-8 to see MASTER up close.


Dr. Nick Clinton talks about the MASTER instrument

After two long but exciting days, we all relaxed poolside at the hotel.   Everyone is extremely excited for the first DC-8 flight on Monday!

SARP, Wednesday June 22

To celebrate our last night in Irvine before traveling to the Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility to prepare for our flights next week, SARPians headed out to Huntington Beach for a dinner and a bonfire on Wednesday night.  

SARP makes fire

The weather was a bit cold — but that didn’t stop a fewbrave SARPians from swimming in the Pacific Ocean.  


Everyone warmed up around the fire, roasting marshmallows and making s’mores as the sun set.  Tomorrow we leave bright and early to drive to Palmdale!


Welcome to SARP!

Twenty-nine advanced undergraduate and early graduate students traveled from all over the United States to participate in the NASA Student Airborne Research Program (SARP) at the University of California Irvine on Sunday.  With the exception of one delayed flight, all travels went off without a hitch.  For some, this was their first trip to California, while others came from only a few miles away.

After checking in to the campus housing at UCI, (where we were surrounded by beautiful purple Jacaranda trees in full bloom), everyone unpacked, met their roommate, and relaxed in their rooms for a bit.   After months of communicating only over email, it was wonderful to finally meet face to face. 

SARP introductory poster session

At 6:30PM on Sunday June 19th, SARP 2011 officially kicked off with the icebreaker/poster session.  All 29 SARPian’s prepared and submitted posters with information on their academic backgrounds, research interests, and hobbies.   These posters were printed out and displayed in the atrium of the Natural Sciences II building on the UCI campus.  SARP participants got to know each other and mingled with NASA scientists and administrators, SARP faculty, mentors, NSERC staff. 

SARP students talk to Dr. Jack Kaye, Associate Director for Research in the Earth Science Division at NASA Headquarters

SARP introductory lectures started bright and early Monday morning.  We heard from NASA scientists and administrators about NASA’s Earth science research and the Airborne Science Program.  Video and powerpoints of all lectures are posted here:

Background lectures from university faculty and NASA scientists and administrators will continue through Wednesday (see the schedule here:  On Wednesday afternoon the students will split into three groups based on their interests (informally called the Air, Land, and Ocean groups). The Air group, lead by Dr. Donald Blake of UC Irvine (with mentor Julie Lee), will study pollution in the Los Angeles basin.  The Land group, led by Dr. Susan Ustin of UC Davis (with mentor Shawn Kefauver) will study evapotranspiration from orchards in the California Central Valley.  Finally, the Ocean group, led by Dr. Raphael Kudela, will study the distribution and abundance of giant kelp in the Santa Barbara Channel. 

Next week all groups will get to fly on the NASA DC-8, departing from the NASA Dryden Aircraft Operations Facility in Palmdale. During the flights, the aircraft will fly north over the San Joaquin Valley over almond orchards, fly over the Santa Barbara Channel to study giant kelp beds, and fly over water treatment plants in Los Angeles Basin to study air pollution. 

We are all very excited for the upcoming flights and trip to Palmdale on Thursday!