This morning started as yesterday ended – blustery, snowing, and overcast. Despite the bleak weather, Jack and I headed out to the AMF3 to prepare for the day’s measurement activities. Optimistically, we prepared an aircraft for flight and headed out to fly. One of the things that make these small DataHawk aircraft unique is that in good weather conditions, they can essentially run their entire flight operation, from launch to landing. Unfortunately, in poor weather, as we’ve had the last couple of days things get more interesting and things devolve into a continuous struggle between man, machine and the elements. Because of this, the majority of our flights this morning involved takeoff, an attempted handoff to the autopilot, and then observing the autopilot struggle with the winds. Eventually, the winds would win, blow the aircraft off course, and Jack would take over and bring it back overhead. We likely went through that scenario about a half dozen times before shifting our focus.
After stopping back at the Air Force facility for a weekend brunch, we headed out again and began to think of new strategies. We decided to set up our ground station in one of the trucks that we have access to, and operate from a shoreline area to allow for manually controlled flights over the near shore environment. I have to say that it felt really good to be flying and collecting data, instead of fighting with aircraft parts, autopilot issues or the winds. On the last flight of the day, we even had an Arctic fox stop by and check out the DataHawk. While this might seem neat, we’ve been told that we should assume that all of the foxes we encounter have rabies, so its elevated interest in our small airplane meant that we quickly landed the plane as close to us as possible, grabbed it, and got into the truck to drive away.
After dinner, we headed back out to the AMF3 in order to organize ourselves and perform some aircraft maintenance in preparation for better weather conditions. Optimistically, tomorrow should provide us with some additional flight opportunities, as winds are supposed to drop down into the 10-15 mph range. Hopefully the work we completed on the aircraft will make for smooth operations when the weather is favorable!