NASA Social At NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (Day One)

WOW! WOW! WOW!

It’s been a really long day, and so will be tomorrow, but I want to do a brain dump, so please forgive me if I use today’s string of Tweets as a framework, and just fill in additional details and more pictures around them. (See, I told you that I loved my blog readers more than my Twitter followers!)

I am not a morning person – but I’ve really been looking forward to this event, so out of the nice, warm, soft, comfy bed I was at 4:50. Neither bright-eyed or bushy-tailed, but I was up and more or less functional.

Except that everyone (i.e., two or three other cars from our hotel) thought that I knew how to get there. I was pretty sure I did in the “big picture” sense (get on the 14 north to Rosamond Road, go right for about 15 miles) but it was the little details where I was lost. Like how to get on the 14 north. There was only an onramp going southbound where I thought there were a pair of onramps – we were lost for a few minutes. Fortunately I do not fit into the standard stereotype of the American male in many respects, so I stopped and got directions. No harm, no fouls.

And we’re underway! Kate Squires is the Grand High Phoobah for this event and she got us going. It looks just like on NASA-TV all those times I’ve seen other NASA Socials. (We were not live on NASA-TV as some Socials are, but they were filming and we’ll probably show up in something sooner or later.)

We started with a competition. Given the information in our packets, who can create the best Tweet or FaceBook post? There will be prizes.

This was mine, which I thought was pretty good. I didn’t win but I did learn something important. In this setting, what’s a huge advantage over the “pretty good” posts is to insert either a picture, a link to related information, or both. Makes sense, good to know — so I posted lots of pictures all day. (Have I ever mentioned that I take a LOT of pictures?)

Today’s focus will be on the “aeronautics” part of “National Aeronautics & Space Administration.”

First stop is the Life Support Lab. These are the guys who deal with ejection seats, oxygen systems, flight suits, emergency rafts, parachutes, and so on. They do their best to keep the pilot alive on a bad day. This is an ejection seat from an F-18.

Curt (sorry, spelled it wrong a couple of times in tweets, only figured it out later) was one of the winners, and the prize was to get to strap into the virtual reality parachute trainer. He chose to try to land back a virtual aircraft carrier, which happened to also be on fire. The instructor (seen in the previous picture) said that no one had ever gotten that one completed successfully.

That record still stands.

While Curt was dangling and going into the drink, we all took pictures and tweeted.

At this point we went through the fabrication and machine tool shops, but my pictures and posts from there ended up on FaceBook. (Trying to spread things around.) Here’s one:

{{Actually, no, here’s not one. For whatever reason, I find that WordPress will not show pictures and Tweets at the same time. WTF? OK, it’s 23:28, no time to troubleshoot tonight. Sorry! We either get to see two pictures or two dozen Tweets, so we’ll go with the Tweets.}}

This is the bed of a water jet cutter. This extremely fine sand is mixed with water and shot out of an incredibly small nozzle at 50,000 PSI. Pfffft, it’s just water, right? Under those conditions, it will slice thorough twelve inch thick sheets of steel like it was butter.

There will probably be more pictures posted next week from there and the “good” pictures taken with the DSLRs. (Have I mentioned that… oh, yeah, I did.)

The model shop was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. We got to see several UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), including a bunch that have been working on projects that will very soon have a huge impact on general aviation, i.e., people like me who fly little planes. Again, great questions, great answers, this place was a lot of fun.

In this hanger are the two NASA F-15s. The grey one on the left is their newest, an F-15D model. We got to get very up close and personal. But no touchee! (Poor Kate, it was like herding cats all day.)

These aircraft are used for a whole list of things, from chase planes, research planes on the ongoing sonic boom research, to being a platform on which to hang other experiments and testing rigs.

This is the F-15B model with the “classic” white and be paint job. *sigh* Yeah, what I wouldn’t give…

We saw several aircraft that are used in noise studies, and are therefore designed to be “vewwy, vewwy, quiet.” This is a powered glider with HUGE long wings, seen here folded in half.

We grabbed lunch and heard from a couple members of the top brass, including NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Lightfoot, who just happened to be here today on his way back to Washington.

The message that we got all day, which we were being asked to pass on and spread the word, is that there are things that NASA does regarding flying that affect all of us, every day, even if we’re not actually on a plane ourselves. Goods move by air, everything from the mail to FedEx to produce to Amazon Prime to… Making the national air system safer and more efficient helps us all. Making planes safer and more efficient helps us get there faster (whether it feels that way some days or not) and with lower ticket prices due to huge fuel savings for the airlines (ditto).

We had a great Q&A session, lots of good, informed, intelligent questions. I had a couple folks send questions for me to try to get in, but I didn’t get the chance.

I really was feeling lucky to be here and I really am glad to share the experience with those who can’t be. I knew this would be great, I just didn’t now how great.

The question was concerning how NASA can get the word out to the general public about all of the critically important work being done. Most people have no idea what NASA does, and even if they know a little bit, it’s probably about rockets. There’s a lot more to NASA than that. Events like this are one way to try to increase the public outreach efforts by NASA.

Lots of testing being done here on supersonic flight and the nature of sonic booms. The one commercial jet that was supersonic, Concorde, was only allowed to go supersonic when travelling over water due to the disruptions that sonic booms can cause to people on the ground. The technology is there today to build supersonic commercial airliners, and even supersonic business jets — but the sonic boom problem still has to be solved. At NASA Armstrong they’re making a lot of progress.

Next we got a panel with four of the NASA Armstrong test pilots. Somehow I managed to tweet three things about it but didn’t include a picture. (Probably over on FaceBook, too late & too tired to check right now.) So here:

{{Ditto, but as I learned a minute later, it’s OK, there actually is a picture of the pilots below.}}

While everyone we met said their job at NASA was the best in the world, my vote goes to these guys!

The varied flying experience all of these pilots have as a group is astonishing. One has a Cessna 172 at Van Nuys (my kind of plane) and does aerobatics at airshows, all the way up to the guys who fly the “SOFIA” 747 and the F-15’s shown above, with just about everything in between. Amazing!

Wait, I guess I did post a picture of the pilots on Twitter. (God, my brain is soooooo fried at the moment, it’s been a really, really long day. Good thing the only “heavy equipment” I’ll be handling tonight is the bed.)

Someone asked a question about integrating UAVs into the national air traffic control system, so that the big guys (United, Southwest, American) and the little guys (private pilots, corporate jets, dirigibles) won’t end up sucking a drone into an engine. Obviously a topic near and dear to my heart.

The short version is that currently all UAV flights are IFR only so they’re monitored by the air traffic system just like any commercial flight or small plane on an IFR flight plan. What comes down the road five or ten years from now remains to be seen, too early to say definitively.

A talk about the ACTE project (Adaptive Compliant Trailing Edge) which is testing a replacement for the traditional flaps on a plane. This was a good one-liner.

Yep, that’s what ACTE will do.

And this is why ACTE is being worked on so much. When perfected, it has the potential for huge efficiency increases, which mean lower fuel costs. It will eliminate a great deal of the noise that planes generate on take-off and landing. And the increased efficiency will leave us with less pollution from jets and cleaner air. That’s why this will be such a big deal.

We saw one of the mission control rooms that are used for monitoring test flights. The concept of the “mission control room” was originated here during the X-15 project in the 1950’s, before NASA adopted it for the manned space program in the early 1960’s. Now it’s a familiar sight and layout, used as well by ESA, SpaceX, the Russians… But it started here.

Then we got to see the ACTE plane. We did not get to see it move, but it’s still pretty neat to see how it’s coming together. They’ve now had two test flights with a third coming up in the next week or so.

In the same hanger was the Ihana UAV. Because of the big optics package hanging underneath the nose, including infrared cameras, it’s been used extensively to look at forest fires through the smoke as well as many other unique projects. In two weeks it will be used to try to track the Orion space capsule as it re-enters the atmosphere and splashes down in the Pacific off of Baja.

Finally, this is what the alarms on my phone look like for about five hours from now so that we can do more of the same tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

 

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Filed under Astronomy, Flying, Photography, Space, Writing

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