And the Science Begins!

Me and Roisin Commane (Harvard) on the DC8 on Research Flight 1 of ATom2

Our second test flight was a 7 hour excursion south over the pacific. It’s good to do longer test flights as some potential instrument issues could only show u after a longer time in flight. We set off at 9am, which mean pre-flight from 6am, relatively civilized as out pre-flights tend to go. It was a beautiful clear day and for us, and most instrument teams, things went well. Much of the data we collected will also be useful for scientific analysis.

We had one day on the ground between the test flight and the science flight. The instruments didn’t require any work, so we used the time to analyze data, refine in-flight check procedures, load spares and get a little rest.

Science flight 1 had a rocky, or should I say icy start. It was -2C at 5am when we arrived on base and, while this meant getting the instruments warmed up in the plane out on the ramp was challenging, the real problem was ice on the wings. The ground crew had climb on the wings with massive tubes blowing hot to de-ice them. We were due to take-off at 0730, but this delayed us until 0915. The flight is one of our longest, over 11hours, so we really could have done without an extra hour and three quarters on board before we started.

View from the DC8 on RF01 View from the DC8 on RF01

Nevertheless, we got going and started out on a long high leg to get down to the equator as fuel-efficiently as was possible. It was freezing cold on the plane. I was wearing 3 layers on bottom, 7 on top, including a down jacket, hat, scarf, hood + blanket and was still cold. The trick is to either get active or sleep.

We made it to 1°N which, this time of year, was in the Southern Hemispheric air because the ITCZ (Inter Tropical Convergence Zone) was further north, and made 5 dips to 500ft and back up on the way back to California.

Dipping down to 500ft above sea-level on RF01

The first deployment was interesting because everything we saw was new and we didn’t know what to expect. The second time around it’s fascinating to see what matches up and what is different. Also, we’ve been analyzing our data from the first deployment and coming up with hypotheses about what caused what we saw, so as data comes in now we have more knowledge with which to interpret it, which makes is even more interesting. Looking with one eye out the window, one on the data, I was mentally drawing in the processes that might be happening on a microscopic scale on the scene outside.


View from the DC8 on RF01
View from the DC8 on RF01


We landed back around 7.30pm, and with a little maintenance and testing on the instruments afterwards I counted 14h45 minutes on the plane, which was long enough of one day! It was an excellent first flight, but I was very happy to have a hot meal, shower and a comfy bed at the end of it.

Sunset seen from the DC8 on RF01
Sunset seen from the DC8 on RF01



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