Author Archives: Maria Navarro

ATTREX: Last week of work

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Day54 to 57: Fifth Science Flight

Here we go again. Afterfinished the pre-flight and the science meeting we are ready to go airborne onemore time.

On Feb 26 at 9:59 am(PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force base heading south toHawaii. I’msure you are wondering why we fly to this area so often. Well, our brilliantgroup of meteorologists and modelers always keep an eye on the weatherconditions and try to find the perfect locations to fulfill the objective ofour missions. For this flight, this area was characterized by the presence ofanticyclonic circulation, very cold air, considerable condensed water, and lowwater vapor concentrations. So, from our scientific point of view, this was anexciting flight.

On the other hand, theflight kept me busy most of the time. Once again, we performed nine verticalsprofile which forced us to power up and power down the instrument severaltimes. Besides, the absence of one of our satellite bands, made the samplingstrategy a little bit complicated. There were a lot of delays for gettingconfirmation of the commands we sent. However, one of the most exciting partswas to execute two of these vertical profiles near to the area where anothergroup was performing balloon measurements. Comparisons between our measurementsand the ones obtained by this group will be extremely helpful, not only for usbut also for all the scientific community interested on knowing the behavior ofozone and water vapor along the different layers of the atmosphere.    

Day58 and 59: Sixth Science Flight

Our ATTREX 2013 lastflight I have a bittersweet feeling and a strangesensation which is hard to explain. I’m excited to complete our mission, but atthe same time it is sad for me to perform my last flight. I know I will be doit again in a blink of an eye, but believe me, with my lack of sleep it is hardto control my emotions. So, here we are again (and for the last time), on March1 around 6:15 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Baseheading south of the equator and along the continental line. 24 hours ofexcitement, particularly in the southern part of the leg where we found a hugecloud which allowed us to take a lot of measurements. Without a doubt, one ofthe most entertaining flights! I collected a great amount of samples aroundthis cloud. At some point, I was even worried because I thought I would use allmy canisters here and I would not have anything else for our way back. However,the science mission crew was aware of the number of canisters left and workedwith us to maximize the their  use.     

By the end of theflight, just before landing, I noticed that many of us were exhausted. We didfeel the satisfaction of completing our last flight and the whole ATTREX 2013campaign  was a success! We weresurrounded by the most amazing crew of pilots, managers, scientists andmodelers.

Next step, remove theinstruments for the aircraft, pack our supplies and go home!

Day60: GOOD BYE ATTREX 2013!

Wow! My two months ofadventures have come to an end. Everyone packed and one by one have left thehangar. Yes, the place that I used to call “my office” for the last monthslooks empty, but it feels full; full of happy memories, funny moments and somefrustrations.

It is hard to say goodbye, but for all us it is more like a SEE YOU LATER…we will back in a couple ofmonths to continue our mission. I’m sure ATTREX 2014 will be even better.

Thus, I don’t want tofinish my blog without saying THANK YOU! Yes THANK YOU to ALL my ATTREX team.We made it! You guys are the most incredible, fascinating and enthusiasticteam. It is an honor for me to be part of you, and I could not feel more proud.Let’s continue with our hard work (I know it is extremely HARD) but it is worthit.

I can’t wait to see youagain to discuss the results of our measurements, and to prepare our nextcampaign in the beautiful area of GUAM.

ATTREX 2014! Here weCome!!!!!!  

ATTREX: Eighth week of work

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Day49 to 52: Fourth Science Flight

After a very nice breakwe are ready to keep working and preparing our instrument for our fourthscience flight. Once I finished our pre-flight, I needed to figure out ourflight plan for sampling. This plan is based on the information provided by ourscience team, who look at the weather conditions prior to each flight. Lookingat the flight path provided by the science team I thought about how much fun Iwould have on this flight. They planned 13 consecutives vertical profiles (ordives) which would mean to turn off GWAS before each descent. It was alsochallenging to plan how many samples we should collect during every ascent. So,after a couple of hours I came out with a good plan: collect 5 to 6 samplesduring ascent and just a few (3 to 4) at cruise altitude. In this way we couldhave a better look at the chemical composition of the vertical structure of ouratmosphere.  

So, here we are,February 21th around 6:47 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off fromEdwards Air Force Base heading to south of the equator for the second time. I’mnot going to lie, I was still nervous about the behavior of GWAS, but after ourfirst dive and noticed how GWAS recovered from its first power down, I feltmore relaxed. Besides, this time I took the later shift (from midnight untilthe aircraft landed) so I did not have to deal with the communication lostissues and the blind sampling strategy.

After 24.5 hours offlight the Global Hawk finally landed. Three hours later we were able to takethe canister out, collect the data from the aircraft computer and put the newset of canister to have them ready for pre-flight.

Yes, two flights down,two more to go!

GWAS sample locations (blue dots) during Science flight # 4

 Day53: A visit from the students of PalmdaleAerospace AcademyMiddle School

Today, we hosted anevent for 99 Middle School students from the Palmdale AerospaceAcademy. Without a doubt,another of my FAVORITE experiences. How fun it was to explain to these kids howmy instrument works. It was not that easy, because I think I am used to using atechnical vocabulary for this, but I finally found the right words and Ibelieved they got the idea.

Even though they still have time to figure out whatcareer path to follow, many of them already know what they want to be. This isreally encouraging for our scientific community. It is nice to know that futuregenerations are already attracted by science. I wish them the best for theirfuture. Keep working hard kids. Remember that society makes progress by havinga skilled and creative work force.

Thanks for coming to Dryden.

Some of the students from the Palmdale Aerospace Academy during their visit to Dryden

ATTREX:Seventh week of work

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Day41 to 43: A rollercoaster of emotions

After an unsuccessfulflight, we were ready to deal with the instrument to try to find a problem.

During three days I wasin a circle of happiness and disappointments. We performed several tests withour instrument which sometimes it worked fine, sometimes it crashed. We alsofelt the pressure of having our instrument ready in two days, just before ournext flight. So it was not the best way to start our week.

To summarize ourjourney, we took some parts out of the aircraft (computer, connections, andcontrol box) and all of them worked fine by themselves.  Just to play it safe, we decided to change theaircraft computer, assemble the instrument again and test it with an externalpower supply. The instrument also worked fine, but once we put the wholeinstrument back to the aircraft it failed. At this point, we figured outsomething could be wrong with the aircraft power, so we change our power zoneto another channel and the instrument performed well. Yes! That night I went tobed confident that the problem was solved.

The next day we triedto take a sample with our instrument just to prove that everything was in goodshape. However, the instrument failed when it was trying to open canister #1.

After several attemptsto determine where the problem was, we decided to jump canister # 1 and try tostart sample with canister #2. It looked like a miracle! The instrument worked.We kept going on testing the other canister, until we reached canister #11 andone more time the instrument died. We saw the same behavior for canister #31,and #41. So, something was wrong with the connections for the first canister ofeach module. One of our engineers checked the wires inside of the canisterconnections and found the problem: An electrical short with the connectorbackshell. YAY!!!! We fixed the connection and solved the problem for good.

GWAS is ready forflight!

A look of GWAS computer outside of the aircraft

Day44 and 45: Third Science Flight: A constant “heart attack” state

Here we are, February14th (Happy V-day!) around 9:48 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 tookoff from Edwards Air Force Base heading to south of Hawaii. I have to confess,I was scared…would my instrument finally work and collect the 90 canisters weneed? Wow, I suffered the whole flight, I was sending the commands to collectour samples, but every time I pressed a button I felt like my heart stopped fora second. It wasn’t until I collected sample canister # 71 when I felt kind ofrelief (of course I was also tired. I was up for 19 hours straight and it wastime for me to go back to the hotel). Elliot kept working with the instrumentuntil the Global Hawk landed.  At thatpoint we got our 90 canister filled with air and ready for analysis. Yes, GWASfinally worked and we ROCKED! Great job GWAS team! I’m so proud of  working with you. I’m finally smiling again.

GWAS computer finally in action during a sample collection

Day46 and 48: Post-Flight, Data analysis and a well deserved break

This is exciting! I’mfinally looking at some numbers. Tons of numbers that provide temperatures, andpressure readings, times and locations of each sample collection. It is alot ofwork, but I never felt so happy. I also took the canister out of the aircraftand sent them to the lab for further analysis. Yes, what a great weekend.Besides, there was a programmed power outrage at Dryden so my weekend will be along one. I’m not only planning to take a look at this data, but I’m alsoplanning to go outside of base and have some fun with other members of ATTREXteam. First stop hiking at Tehachapi trail, then a trip to Sequoia National Park.  See you next week!

ATTREX: Sixth week of work

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Day34 to 36: First Science Flight!

Pre-flight: done!

Aircraft: in runway!

ATTREX team members: ready to go!

Powerup…vehicle is moving…

YES!, On Tuesday Feb 5around 7:52 am (PST) the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Baseheading to West Pacific Ocean. I was extremely excited, my heart was beatingfast and my hands were sweating…it was amazing to see the aircraft finally in theair! 

Two minutes aftertake-off, I started to warm up my instrument (pumps were on!), and 15 min laterI started to take our first sample…Yes, so far so good!!!

I kept sampling forseveral hours, but suddenly, when I was ready to draw some air inside canister33, the pressures in my instrument dropped…uh oh!!! What is going on…PANIC!!!This never happened before. I was glad that our instrument PI (principalinvestigator) was next to me, so he figured out that one of our pumps juststopped working.

Well, no more samplingfrom this flight (bummer!)…I was really disappointed, not only because I wouldmiss the fun of the sampling collection, but also, because I felt like Iletdown all my ATTREX team (In this kind of campaign, the data collection isreally valuable from other instrument teams since they can compare and validatetheir results)…but everybody kept telling me, and I knew, these things happen,and it is part of the science, which is based on precision and not onperfection (otherwise it would be so boring!).

Anyway, the worst partof this event was to know that we would have to stay in the Operation Centeruntil the end of the flight, yes,  24lovely hours doing almost nothing…just turning our instrument on (to keep it warmed)and turn it off for descending (remember, AWAS takes most of the power from theaircraft, and they need it during descending.)

Yes, what a night! Iwas only waiting for the aircraft to land to get inside it and determine thereason why my instrument had an unsuccessful flight.

A view of my instrument screen before pumps failed

Day37 and 38:  A little surgery for thepumps!

Ok, so my team hadaccess to the aircraft, and we found that indeed one of our pumps died duringflight. We took it out, opened it and found a frozen bearing. This is somethingfeasible, since temperatures at high altitudes are really cold. Thus, wereplaced the pump with a spare one (lucky that we packed it before coming toDryden) and reinstalled inside the aircraft.

To avoid furtherproblems and to verify our cold temperature suspicions, we decided to add a thermistor tomonitor the temperatures of the pumps for our next flight (yes, we scientistslove to know the reason for everything!)

Now, we are ready to goon ATTREX’s  second science flight.Preflight is done. Science meeting was held, and aircraft will be in air onSaturday, February 9th . Wish us luck!

GWAS pumps outside of aircraft. (pump # 1 guilty as charge!)

A little test before installing the new pump inside the Global Hawk

Day39 and 40: Second Science Flight: Here we go!

Yes, it is the weekend,but science never stops. Besides, someone told me that Global Hawk stands for Global Holiday And Weekend Killer (LoL!) and I’m starting to believe its true. Thus, are weready? Let’s Fly…

It is Saturday, Feb 9th,the Global Hawk 672 took off from Edwards Air Force Base heading to West Pacific Ocean and South to the Equator. I feltthe same excitement as I felt on Tuesday, although I was also worried about thebehavior of my pumps.

Well, this time Iwaited until the aircraft reached 40,000 ft. to start the pumps. So far sogood, the pressure reading was right, and temperatures were warmed. After 10min, I was ready to sample our first canister, so, I enabled the button tostart my sequence, but I did not see any response in my ground computer. At thesame moment I noticed we lost communication with the satellite, thus, I waiteda few minutes for it to recover.  Then,communication came back on, but my instrument was still in stand-by. Looking atanother screen I noticed there were no current values in our aircraft zone…uhoh AGAIN!!!, AWAS died one more time. But, this time was even worse since I wasnot able to collect any sample. My frustration reached a boiling point…howcould it happen? Did I miss-connect something during pre-flight? I wondered ifthe new pump thermistor working fine? Ohhh no!!! What a mess…

I decided to leave the Operation Center. I went back to the hotelwith tears in my eyes…I exercised, went out for a walk, talk with everyoneabout the problem just to try to vent my frustration, but it seems like it didnot work…I knew it was not the end of the world, but for me it was…Then Irealize what the problem was: I LOVE my job! And I care so much about it that Iwant it to do it well.

Well, here I am waitingfor the Global Hawk to land. The pressure is on. We will only have two days tofigure out what happened with our instrument and fix the problem before ourThird Science flight. Stay tuned.

(No picture here… )

ATTREX: Fifth week of work

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Day27 to day 31: Scrubbed over so many reasons, but still having fun!

Wow, I do not even knowwhere to start. Last week I mentioned that our first science flight wascancelled due to bad weather. Well, this week we did not have too much luckeither. Our flight for Tuesday was cancelled for communication problems, andthe one re-scheduled for Wednesday was moved to the next day due to transponderissues. On Thursday we tried one more time, but now, we had synchronizationproblems between the aircraft and the ground station. By mid-morning theycalled the flight cancelled. Fortunately, this problem was solved after fewhours. So, the same afternoon, we came back to the operation center to set allour instrument computers, but just to find out that we would not be able totransit from Edwards Air Force to the Pacific Oceanon time…so yes! We were double scrubbed (and on the same day!!! just a newrecord!). Under this circumstance we decided to hold our first Science flightand schedule it for next Tuesday, Feb 5.

In the mean time, weare taking this bad patch with humor and doing something really cool! We wereshooting videos for the ATTREX Education and Public Outreach. Our film crew hasbeen wonderful with us. They are the most dedicated and enthusiastic people Iever met. Honestly, they have been really patient, especially with me, since Ihave to repeat my video many times! I bet the results will be extraordinary. Ifyou have not seen the video they already made for us, take a look… you will beamazed!

OurINCREDIBLE film crew (Diego Beltran and Rafael Mendez) and one of our Scientist(and model) Dr. Jasna Pittman

Film Crew in action!


Day32: ATTREX Student Visit (A day to remember!)

Without a doubt one ofthe BEST DAYS of my life!!!…How nice is it to share your experience withthose who are interested in your work!

Today, I had the amazingopportunity to talk about ATTREX with kids from the IndependenceHigh School (SanJose, CA) and El Camino HighSchool (South San Francisco).Our conversation was very casual. I talked about my experience as part of theATTREX team, tried to give them some advice about how to become a scientist;and the kids came out with interested questions about how to become part of us.In my opinion these kids have an enormous potential. They are smart, creative,and very eager to learn. I hope my talk gave them the motivation to keepchasing their dreams, be achievers and find success.

Here are some picturesfrom that day… Thanks for coming Chicos!

Some of the students from the IndependenceHigh School (SanJose, CA) and El Camino HighSchool (South San Francisco)

The students next to the Global Hawk

ATTREX: Fourth week of work

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Day22: Pre-Flight

Today I’m getting readyfor my first Science Flight. On day 15, I described a little bit our pre-flightprocedure; but different from that time, we are adding some temperature logsaround our aircraft zone. The temperature logs are small devices that monitorthe temperatures wireless; and once the data is collected we can quicklydownload it to our computer.

For us, it is veryimportant to have a good estimation of the temperatures around our instruments,because there is a risk of freezing the canisters’ valves if temperatures reachvery cold values. Could you imagine this scenario?… it would be impossiblefor us to open the bottles and collect air samples. But, do not panic!!!! Rightnow we count with heater cables that keep our instrument warm. It’s just thatwe need to have a better idea of the ideal temperature to turn our heaterson  and off. 


Oneof the five temperature log devices we use in AWAS aircraft zone.

Day23: Science team meeting

Similar to what we didon day 10, today we had our Science team meeting in preparation for our firstScience Flight. As I mentioned before, we usually talk about flight plans,science targets and meteorological issues. But, today we also had theopportunity of seeing preliminary results from the Mini-DOAS team. It wasinteresting to hear how the instruments work (check Max’s blog if you want tohave a better idea), and see that their results from the range flight were inreasonable agreement with last year’s data. Way to go Mini-DOAS team!!!

 Today, we also were able to confirm oursuspicion…Yes, AWAS will be powered down every time the aircraft descends. Eventhough it is a little inconvenient for us (yes, we will have to be awake forthe 24 hours the flight lasts, as the instrument could need to be powered downat any time) I still believe it would be a wonderful experience. We can findout how our instrument behaves during sequential power switch, and how cleanour samples would be after each interruption. As I said it before, the beautyof our work is the fact there is always something new to learn.   


Scienceteam meeting (a lot of smart people together….)


MaxSpolaor (from Mini-DOAS team) showing how their instrument works.

Day24: First Science Flight (CANCELLED)

OMG! yes, there is noother expression…our flight was cancelled. We already knew that this could behappen, as the meteorological data from our science meeting showed theprobability of icy conditions. But, still we had the hope of a change to theweather, or at least, proceed with the flight but return before the conditionsdeteriorate. In any case, I felt that it was not meant to be. My heart wasbroken…but hey, at least I could go back to sleep and try to recover some“beauty” sleep. 

New schedule forflight: Tuesday Jan 29th, 2013…stay tuned 


Yes,it looks like we are not going anywhere under this cloudy condition…


The weather looks awful here!


Day25-26: More data analysis and Media day

The weekend isapproaching, but we still have tons of things to do. I started my day bylooking at some data from the chemical analysis of our canisters. Last weekendwe tested our new gas chromatograph mass spectrometer (GC-MS), and here is thefun part: to calculate the area of the peaks provided by this instrument. It isa simple procedure since the location of the peaks and an estimation of thearea was previously determined by the software. We just need to double checkthat those peaks are the correct ones, and that the areas are calculated right(we need precision on our compound concentrations)

In the mean time, I gota little distracted because today was Media day! I was really impressed withthe amount of photographers, reporters and videographers who came to the hangar(yes, we are going to be famous!) The interviews were given to our principalinvestigators, and the hangar looked beautiful surrounded by posters about ourinstruments and missions. I am not sure where all these media presentations aregoing to be posted, but I would love to see them. If I find the information Iwill pass it along, so you can also enjoy the program.

My last news for today,and I believe is one of the most important, is that I’m going to take Sundayoff! I’m going to take advantage of this free day and go for a short road tripwith my colleagues from Harvard (Jasna Pittman and Bruce Daube). We are headingto Red RockCanyon and Mt. Whitney!!!…see!Not everything is work…There is also entertainment on the ATTREX mission.

GC-MS Data Analysis

Reporters during Media Day

ATTREX: Third week of work

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Day14: Combine System Test (CST)

Today was the day!!! Wefinally performed our Combine System Test. In general, the test ran smoothly,and everything went as I expected. However, I have to confess, I could not helpbut feel anxious the entire time. I am not sure why. I have been doing pre-CST,and bench test for almost a month, but I believe every time is different. 

Today, I was lucky tocount with the assistant of one of our engineers (Roger). He kept an eye on allmy movements, so I felt a little bit more confident, but still, I think anxietywon the battle.

Once the test finished,I finally could relax and have some fun! I was waiting to see the results fromthe computers. We usually can take a look at the data from our ground computerat any time, but sometimes, it is better to see the results from the aircraftcomputer (you know, if satellite communication fails, the aircraft computerstill contains most of the data). I cannot complain; the results from the testwere good. We were able to send commands from the ground and our instrumentexecuted them perfectly. We tested the heaters and the pumps. We did not takeany sample since we were on the ground. But we are confident that if theheaters and pumps worked, the canisters valves will also work!

 Let’s just wait and see what will happenduring our Range flight!


ATTREXteam at the Global Hawk Operation Center during CST. Roger (front row 3rdsit from left to right) keeping an eye on AWAS computer during CST.


Rogergetting ready to collect the CST data from our instrument computer inside theaircraft.

Day15: Pre-Flight

I’m so excited;tomorrow will be our first time in the air. So, today we checked our instrumentone more time.  In our pre-flight, wecheck all bolts and electrical connections in our instrument (of course, wedon’t want the instrument to jump around during the flight).  We also set up the instrument computer insidethe aircraft, and pump the inlet to verify that there are not leaks.  The procedure takes like 45 min.

Rich and Roger werewith me during the pre-flight (I believe six eyes are better than two). Ipersonally can’t wait for tomorrow’s Range flight.  It would be a short flight (5 or 6 hours),but it will be the opportunity that I was waiting for. I will finally collectsome samples!!!


  Our “home made” device to check the inletduring Pre-flight.


Day16th: Range flight…but wait, not so fast!!

Well, here we are!Range flight Day! How excited…

Today I woke up around3:40am to be ready to pick up Roger at 4:40 am (we had to be at the Global Hawkoperation Center at 5:00 am) Flight was scheduled to take off at 7:00 am.  Once we got to the Global Hawk we noticedsomething strange…not all the pilots were in the Flight Operation room, andthrough the screen, we just saw one person around the aircraft (there are usuallya lot of people around preparing the Global Hawk for takeoff) Thus, 5 min afterI set up my ground computer, one of the network engineers broke the news: FLIGHIS CANCELLED!…Whaaaaatttt???? But I was so ready for this flight (Bummeragain!!!), Well, it seem like the aircraft power pallet was not working and wecould not fly without that data information. Thus, the plan will be to fix thedevice and proceed with our Range flight tomorrow (same time, same place).

As Jochen (a member ofthe Mini Doas group) said: “It was a good drill”…ohh yes indeed!…now I knowhow terrible will be to wake up again at 3:00 am…but hey!, let’s  look at the bright side…did I mention howbeautiful  the sunrise is at Dryden? Hereare some pics…enjoy while I go back to sleep.


   Sunriseat Dryden!!!

Day17: Let’s try this one more time

Well, here we areagain! Range Flight Day!…not too excited as I was yesterday, but ready to goONE MORE TIME.

I woke up pretty earlyin the morning (3:00 am), just to find out that the flight was delayed. Some documentationfor yesterday’s repair was needed before takeoff. Thus, while we waited,mechanics from Northrop Grumman checked the power pallet ONE MORE TIME.  After a couple of tests, they realized thatit was not working properly. They would need one hour more to complete thework. Well, after some time calculations, the Global Hawk Payload Manager (DaveFratello) realized that a delay in takeoff, would not allow us to land on time.Thus, our Range Flight was postponed ONE MORE TIME…

 Hopefully we will be in the air tomorrowmorning. You know, third time’s the charm.



Mechanicsfrom Northrop Grumman testing the power pallet.

Day18: third time’s the charm

Finally, Range FlightDay!…More than excited, I just felt like I have to get this done. We havebeen trying to fly for three days, so it was time for me to get some airsamples. 

While the aircraft wastaxiing, I started to feel really anxious. I was wondering if I did mypre-flight correctly. I was sure I did, but I could not help to have my doubts(I think it is normal when you feel so nervous). By the time we requested topower up our zone I decided to get rid of my fear and focus on my work. Yes,after we powered up the instrument, we started to get our “packets” through thesatellite; uffff… what a relief!

I took my first sampleapproximately 15 min after takeoff.   Ifelt really glad when I saw the plots on my computer and I noticed that Iactually drew some air into my canisters.

Since the flight wasreally short (5 hours) I had to take samples every 3 minutes in order tocollect the 90 samples that we usually collect during a science flight.However, during this flight, we also performed a power test, since the GlobalHawk managers needed to know the power consumption of each instrument. Thus, inthe middle of the flight, they decided to power down each of the aircraft zonesand take a look of the changes on currents. Unfortunately for us, ourinstrument is the one that consumes most of the power…this mean, that forsecurity issues with the aircraft, we will have to turn off AWAS every time theaircraft descends. To be honest, my team is a little concerned about it. Westill do not know how the instrument will behave with this sequential powerdown and ups. But we will figure it out in our next flight…so stay tuned.


AWASground computer during sampling. See how the pressure changes (white line onthe 3rd plot from left to right) as the canister drew air.


Oneof the monitors at the Global Hawk Operation Center (GHOC) showing our aircraftready to land (welcome home baby!!!)


Day19 through 21: Data analysis

And now its time to seewhat I got!

One of the first thingswe do after each flight is to extract the data from the aircraft (part of ourpost-flight procedure). From the values collected by the aircraft computer Iverify if all canisters open and collect sample. However, there is a lot ofinformation that I need to gather from the data e.g. where the samples werecollected, how long it took to the canisters to fill up, what pressure eachcanister reached during sampling, etc. So I spend the next couple of dayslooking at the numbers and plotting the results.

During my preliminarydata analysis, I found out we missed one of the most important “packets”, theIWG1 (a text file that record aircraft information such as altitude, longitude,latitude, etc) , thus I also spend a lot of time exchanging e-mails with oursoftware engineer in order to solve this problem before our next flight.

There is a lot of workto do for the next couples of days, and this is really exciting!!!. First, weare going to test our analytical instrument (a Gas-chromatograph-MassSpectrometer) on the site. This instrument will allow us to know what compounds(and how much of them) are in the air samples collected. If the instrumentworks as we expected, we will save time (and $$), as for the followingcampaigns we won’t need to ship our canister back to Miami to performed thiswork. Thus, keep your fingers crossed (all of them!!!)


ATTREX: Second week of work

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Day 7: A way to do it wrong!

Well,besides continuing to clean canister (with my warm oven), today we had ourfirst communications test (IT test). This test evaluates if our instrumentreceive the commands from our ground computer, and if it communicates throughthe right satellites. The procedure is very simple. The instruments are poweredup one by one and the network engineers check for the signals inside theaircraft and through the satellites. In our case, we use our ground computer tomonitor the signals by receiving something we call “engineering packet”, arecord of all the commands we send and receive from both aircraft and groundcomputers. During the test, I saw how all instruments were tuned on and workingfine, until finally our instrument was turned on but, we did not see any engineeringpacket (bummer!!!). I couldn’t help but wonder…what were wrong with ourinstrument? I felt extremely disappointed. I performed several bench tests andboth computers communicated perfectly. I also double checked that the aircraftcomputer was turned oncorrectly before performing the test, so, what went wrong? I thought a lotabout it while I was walking back from the operation center to the hangar, butthere was something else that really bothered me…I think it was the embarrassmentbecause our instrument was the only one that didn’t work…Luckily, we wereable to go to the runway and check our aircraft computer. We realized then,that the aircraft computer did not open the default program so it wasimpossible for it to communicate. Once we solved the problem and confirmed thateverything was working fine, I decided to get rid of my embarrassment by rememberingthe great words of Benjamin Franklyn: “I didn’t fail the test, I justfound 100 ways to do it wrong.”

The aircraftbeen pull out from the hangar to runway for IT test

Global Hawksatellite antenna

Members ofeach team in the Global Hawk Operation Center during IT test.

Day 8 and 9: Sick Days!

It is Wednesday, Jan 9th, exactly one weekworking at Dryden. The job has been going really well, but now,it is me who does not feel well.

I took some time off to recover from a terriblepoison food. Being sick during my field work has been one of my worst experiences.I honestly tried to rest on my hotel room, but subconsciously, I was stillthinking about how things were going in the hangar. Fortunately, things wererunning smoothly and my team did not need me around. I bet interesting thingshappened at Dryden, but more excited things are about to happen!


Day 10: Here is the plan!

I came back to work today. I kept cleaningthe canisters (fortunately the last set), but the most interesting part of theday was our first Science meeting. Around 1: 00 pm all the scientists met withthe Principal Investigators (Eric Jensen and  Lenny Pfister)to talk about flight plans, science targets and meteorological issues.  Itseems like the flight strategies are pretty clear, and the weather seems tocooperate for the flight proposed for next week. Let’s just hope we can completeall the combine system tests on time, thus we can be ready for our first scienceflight!!!, and let me enjoy the weekend, which weather seem to be prettyawesome too!!!

DAY 13: CST,PRE-CST, PRE2 CST…which one is it?

Well, to be honest, today I felt like I wasin an operating room, but outside…in the waiting area. We started our morningready for a CST (combine system test), a communication test that involved thescience teams and the aircraft pilots. Unfortunately, the Ku- band system failed for almost half of the  day and we did not have any other option thanwait until it was fixed…Yes, these things happens and it is no one fault…forthis reason you should always be prepare and expect the unexpected during fieldwork.

Around 3:00 pm Ku-band became operative.However, the CST turned into a PRE-CST (the same exercise but w/o pilots) asthe pilots were not available at the moment. The bright side of this test was the successful result of ourinstrument. We were finally able to communicate through both bands KU andIridium.

AWAS ground computer during Pre-CST (yes!!! It is working)

ATTREX: First week of work

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Day 1: Welcome to a new challenge

Welcome to my blog and to my amazing journey on ATTREX 2013.

 I feel excited aboutthis new campaign, even though it happens immediately after my New Year’s partyand I haven’t had enough time to rest!

Today, I flew from Miami, FL to Los Angeles, CA on a long 5hours flight. During this time, I have not only watched movies, solvedcrosswords, and listened to some music; I also thought about my expectations forthis campaign.  As a scientist, I have aninfinite number of goals. For example, I would like to develop my research skills,and/or to improve my performance using the basic knowledge I acquired lastyear. But as a member of the ATTREX team, I only hope for the fieldwork to runsmoothly. The problem is that there are some things you simply can’t plan for during a field work, and unforeseen problemswill definitely change our mission plans. In this context, I believe that myonly option is to be optimistic and to think positive!  Since graduate school I learned that obstaclesare the stimulus that impels our actions to successfully complete our work, andI am sure that ATTREX 2013 won’t be the exception to this rule. Thus, welcometo this adventure and to the new challenge that is waiting for us. 

Entrance of Dryden Flight Research Center (Who saysDisneyland?… actually, it is HERE where the “magic” begins)

Day 2: Hands on the aircraft (Kinda!!!)

Today was my first day at Dryden. It was nice to come backand see all the familiar faces and wish them Happy New Year.  

Our day started pretty early in the morning (around 6: 00am). I was still tired from my trip, but I like to get my hands on theaircraft, so I wouldn’t miss it for the world! Our job today was to install ourinstrument inside of the aircraft to complete the weight and balance. However,since it was the first installation for the mission, Elliot (our instrument PI)took charge. I then played the role of assistant, which it is not that bad…atleast I was still able to touch the aircraft (literally). Thus, as an assistantI was just handled the modules and the necessary tools for the AWASinstallation. The problem was that I wasn’t too familiar with the name of thetools in English (oops!). Luckily, our brilliant mechanic Steve was nearby, andhe handled most of the tools for me…Thank you Steve, you certainly avoided my awkward moment.  Despite this embarrassingmoment (that I think nobody knew until I wrote it), I still feel proud of mylabor! Today I’m not just a simple chemist; I’m a chemist who knows the name ofthe tools.  That’s the beauty of ATTREX,there is always something new to learn!!

AWAS modules ready for installation inside aircraft

Elliot Atlas inside of the aircraft during AWAS installation

Day 3 through 6: First thingsfirst:  Let’s clean some canisters!!! (WithHEAT!)

I finishedmy week and started the new one by cleaning canisters!!! This is definitely oneof the most important steps to assure the precision of our work. Thus, I haveto be really careful about the procedure and keep track of all the steps. Theprocedure is very simple, although sometimes it takes a couple of hours to bedone. Basically, I introduce the canisters inside an oven and pump out the airthat was previously setting inside them. Then, I introduce clean nitrogen andpump it out again. I repeat this process several times, so it keeps me busy formost of the day. However, one of the greatest advantages of doing this work isto be close to the oven. To be honest, the temperatures in the desert have beenextreme!!, and I think the hangar has a peculiar temperature regulator… It canonly be set to cold or “super “cold. So, if you are planning a trip to Drydenduring winter time, just be sure to bring extra coats or your own oven!!! 

Thecleaning system (OVEN included!!!)

ATTREX: Introduction to Maria's blog

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Maria Andreyna Navarro Rodriguez: 

I am a postdoctoral associate from the University of Miami. During year and a half, I haveworked in the ATTREX project as a team member of the Advanced Whole Air Sampler(AWAS) for the Global Hawk aircraft. My main role is to help with the sampling, analysis, and data interpretation of tracegases collected by our instrument. My educational background includes a BS inChemistry from the Central University of Venezuela, and a PhD in EnvironmentalScience from Indiana University.  Myprevious work experience involves atmospheric chemistry research of differentlevels of the atmosphere, focusing on the analysis of particles and gases.

The purpose of my blog about ATTREX is to share myperspective about this experience, and I hope thatmy writing will be engaging for those people who might think of science assomething too abstract and complicated. Science can alsobe fun!

Check out this video if you want to know a little bit more about me.

Maria Navarro (ATTREX)