Note: Photos taken during of a safety video during atraining class, not of optimal quality, but enough to capture a pretty unique airplaneand its emergency procedures.
I have returned back to Palmdale, CA, the base of operationsof NASA’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA. This weekthere are scheduled two flights to 40,000 feet to complete commissioningactivities of the FORCAST mid-IR imager with grism complement and some firstscience activities of the Cycle 1 period. The two flights are Tues Jun 11thand Thurs Jun 13th, sunset to sunrise.
Tuesday marks my first flight on SOFIA. Being a newbie, I amrequired to attend egress training. I took this class along with a student fromIthaca College who is helping with our grism data pipeline and four SOFIA AirborneAmbassadors, education specialists from El Paso, Texas. All the other flyershave had this training.
For more information about the SOFIA Airborne AmbassadorProgram, check out this link.
The briefing started with a description of the location ofthe exit doors, and hatches. To note in this 747SP there are no over-the-wingexits, and no floor lighting to illuminate the path out. The two side doors actjust like any other jet egress doors, each equipped with an evacuation slide.And no, we did not test the slide deployment on the plane, as that costs tensof thousands of dollars to repackage the slide and recertify it for flight.
A lot of discussion was about the location of the oxygenmasks and life preservers because depending where you are sitting on the plane,or what station you are at during flight, the location varies. We were shown amultitude of oxygen masks. The figure below shows top left: standard drop-downmasks that we are commonly familiar with, top right: EPOS, or emergencypassenger oxygen system (also known as a smoke hood), bottom right: the masksfor the pilots and the mission manager (also includes a communication system),and bottom left: portable oxygen tank which is part of some of the specialseats on the telescope deck. There are masks in the toilets, and some areportable to carry with you if you are moving about the cabin. The presentationwas a video plus a hands-on demonstration.
We went over locations of the fire extinguishers, first aidkits, AED (automated external defibrillator) and emergencysurvival kits. On each flight, there will be 6 crew members, with 4 up on theupper deck (pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and tech) and 2 safety techs onthe telescope deck. But with on order 20-30 passengers scattered between bothdecks it really is important to know where all this special equipment is located.Nothing is standard on this 747SP.
We looked through the emergency survival kit and handled thedifferent radios and beacons in case we need to assist the crew. We alsolearned that the Mission Manager serves as the main point of contact fordirection in case of an unexpected emergency.
The next step in my SOFIA adventure will be a crew briefingon flight day around 5pm, where specifics of each flight leg will be described.There will be an on-board safety summary as well. I was out here for line opstwo weeks back and I have to admit I never really looked for the safetyequipment, so rest assured now that I now what I need to look for, I can spotthe equipment exit areas that were discussed in the briefing tonight!
I close with a still I took from the safety video showingthe escape hatch from the upper deck of the 747SP. Apparently you have to grabhold of a special handle (and there only a few) and rappel down. I really hopeit does not come to that, but I am glad I know about the upper hatch, escaperoutes down through the nose gear and side doors.