Packing up…

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Today was our last day flying at Oliktok.  Before I get into the day’s activities, here’s a bit of information on ERASMUS, “by the numbers”:

  • Number of days spent on site at Oliktok: 13.5
  • Total number of flights: 163
  • Total number of flight hours: 23.2
  • Highest altitude flown: 850 meters
  • Lowest altitude flown (not during take off/landing): 1 meter
  • Number of aircraft lost: 0
  • Number of times the ground station was started: 348
  • Number of weather balloons launched by ERASMUS team members: 2
  • Number of bears seen: 2 (both grizzlies)
  • Number of radars we would really have preferred not to have had to deal with: 2
A map showing the flight paths of all 163 flights completed during the DataHawk component of ERASMUS.

A map showing the flight paths of all 163 flights completed during the DataHawk component of ERASMUS.

In order to have a bit of fun on our last day, we changed things up from the repeated profiling that we’ve focused on over the last week or so, and flew some more unique patterns.  First, we timed some flights especially to coincide with both the 0930 and 1530 weather balloon launches that happen from the site so that we can compare the measurements that we get from the DataHawk2 with those coming from the radiosonde launches.  In addition, we did quite a bit of low-altitude (and I mean really, really low altitude — down to 1 m above the surface) flying over a variety of surfaces, including the tundra, lakes, the ocean, the runway, and the beach, in order to look at fine scale temperature variability over these different surface types.  These patterns provided us with an opportunity to explore the capabilities of the planes, while also giving our necks a bit of a break — it gets tiring looking up over your head for days at a time!

Low altitude flight!  While this pass is around 2 meters, there were some that were even lower than this!

Low altitude flight! While this pass is around 2 meters, there were some that were even lower than this!

It’s crazy to think that we’ve already been up here for two weeks — it doesn’t seem nearly as long, although thinking back, the last time I was in Boulder seems like forever ago.  I’m half expecting the weather back home to be totally different when I return on Monday, but based on the reports I’ve been getting, it’s still just plain hot there.  It’s going to take some adjustment to go from 30s today back to 90s on Monday!  Before heading back to the AMF to pack things up, we did take the time to get one quick team photograph (below).  It’s been great working with Dale, Nathan and Will (as well as Al and Wessley).  Though we faced some challenges, I’m heading home feeling optimistic and looking forward to digging into the measurements we obtained in greater detail.  We set off from Oliktok tomorrow morning — let’s hope for no rig moves or other unforeseen issues in our journey back to Deadhorse to catch our flight back to Denver (by way of Barrow and Anchorage).

The CU ERASMUS DataHawk team, right after completing the last flight of the campaign.

The CU ERASMUS DataHawk team, right after completing the last flight of the campaign.  From left to right: Gijs de Boer, Will Finamore, Dale Lawrence, and Nathan Curry.

Profiles, profiles, and more profiles…

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Today has been (and continues to be — lots of daylight on the North Slope right now!) a day filled with profiling of the atmosphere.  We started right at 8 am this morning, and have been doing our best to get profiles every half hour, only breaking for meals.  As the figure below shows, so far, we’re doing pretty well!

Temperature profiles from flights flown so far today.  We hope to keep going until 930 pm!

Temperature profiles from flights flown so far today. We are trying to keep going until 930 pm!

Because we’re still having some issues with our autopilot and interference, we’ve done most of this profiling under manual control.  I can’t tell you how happy I am to have Will and Nathan along on this trip — they do an incredible job safely flying this small platform up to heights where I can hardly make it out against the sky.  The photo below shows what the aircraft looks like at 100 m altitude — but we have routinely seen flights up to 500 m and beyond under manual control!  Incredible…

The DataHawk soaring at around 200 m above the surface, as seen from below.

The DataHawk 2 soaring at around 100 m above the surface, as seen from below.

Gijs preparing a DataHawk 2 for launch.

Gijs preparing a DataHawk 2 for launch.

The DataHawk 2 preparing to land, with the AMF3 and hangar in the background.

The DataHawk 2 preparing to land, with the AMF3 and hangar in the background.

Amazing to think that tomorrow we already pack up our gear to prepare to return home.  While it seems like our time here has been relatively short, when I think back to arriving in Anchorage, it already seems like a very long time ago.  We’re calling around to the various oil companies in order to do our best to anticipate any upcoming rig moves — we really don’t want to get stuck behind one and miss our flights home.  I think that the whole team is feeling ready to get back to Colorado and a bit more summer weather.

In a fog…

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Every morning since we arrived here, I’ve woken up at the same time (6:20 AKDT) in order to have a little time to wake up before our daily operations briefing at 6:45 AKDT.  This morning, I woke up looked outside, saw sunshine, and went to take a shower.  During that time, I formulated a plan for flights for the rest of the day — Nathan and Dale were on the first morning shift and Will and I had the second — which would involve something very similar to yesterday’s “rinse and repeat” plan.  Send the plane on its way, await the inevitable interference, bring it down, and send it out again.  I got myself dressed and headed to the dining area to get breakfast ready, looked outside and saw nothing.  In the 15 minutes it took me to shower and get dressed, the entire tundra had been blanketed by a thick fog.  I know that it was pretty thick because the large Oliktok Point hangar that is located approximately 450 m from the USAF facility was nowhere to be seen.  The photo below shows what things looked like around 10:30, when the visibility had gotten *slightly* better…  This sort of weather is really no good for flying here.  Even if the aircraft had been flying exactly as they should, the potential to have a bear sneak up on you is something to avoid, if possible!

The fog, mid-morning.

The fog, mid-morning.  The dark shape in the middle of the photo is the hangar, around 450 meters away.

We had seen similar fog last week, which burned off rather quickly.  But this was not the case today — it was not until around 1 pm that the fog got close to burning off, and even then it was never far away.  We took advantage of that time and got a few flights in between lunch and dinner time, but as we made our way back to the USAF facility for dinner, fog, mist and clouds reoccupied the Oliktok skies.

Will keeps a watchful eye on the DataHawk 2 as it executes a low approach  to land.

CU undergraduate student Will Finamore keeps a watchful eye on the DataHawk 2 on final approach to landing during a break in the foggy weather.  Although it looks very close to him, it was actually about 10 yards in front of him at the time.

Days like this are frustrating because they represent a day with very few measurements, but in some ways “down” days are an expected and necessary component of field work, particularly in the Arctic.  Sometimes you just have to accept the fact that the weather can win and there’s nothing you can do about it.  Not to say we were idly sitting all day — we all took full advantage of the window to catch up on work, ensure the aircraft maintenance is up to date and analyze some of the measurements obtained to date.  Nathan even got a chance to launch the 3:30 PM weather balloon.  Tomorrow is another day, hopefully with better weather!

CU graduate student Nathan (left) and Oliktok operations technician Wessley (right) get ready to launch the 330 radiosonde from Oliktok Point!

CU graduate student Nathan Curry (left) and Oliktok operations technician Wessley King (right) get ready to launch the 330 radiosonde from Oliktok Point!

The last two days…

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As conveyed, we are struggling to use our aircraft to the extent we’re used to, but that doesn’t mean that we’re going to come home empty handed.  Although it sometimes seems a bit futile, over the last two days, we’ve continued to launch and fly the aircraft and let them collect data for as long as they can before interference forces us to land.  This has resulted in some really neat measurements!

IMG_2015_1

Al (with binoculars) surveying for wildlife, and Will (foreground) getting ready to fly. This is the low cloud scene that we were sampling today!

As an example, today we woke up to find some very low clouds — with the bottom of the clouds at only 100 meters above the ground.  Initially, this looked like a dire situation, since the majority of our interference issues had been at 150 m and below, and given the interference we’ve been facing, we are currently not willing to take the aircraft into clouds where we can not see them.  However, we decided to go out and sample to the best of our ability.  Initially, this meant a “rinse and repeat” sort of approach, where we launched the airplanes, profiled between 50-100 m as long as the radar allowed, and then landed, rebooted, and sent it back on its way.  As time went on, however, the clouds began thinning, and we were able to make measurements throughout the layer where the (now thin and transparent) clouds were sitting.  This layer persisted for the entire day, with upper level clouds slowly dissipating, and a strong inversion layer (which used to be directly above the lower level clouds) sticking around into the evening.  The figure below shows what a day’s worth of temperature profiling looks like.  The inversion layer can be seen as the sharp increase in temperature starting at around 150 m.  It remains frustrating that we can’t sample this sort of event reliably and continuously as we had hoped and expected due to the interference, but still very excited to dig into these measurements further!

The colors represent temperatures (in time-height space) from all of the profiles flown today (08/12).

The colors represent temperatures (in time-height space) from all of the profiles flown today (08/12).

A single temperature profile from this morning.  Note how much change and fine scale structure exists over a relatively short time period!

A single temperature profile from this morning. Note how much change and fine scale structure exists over a relatively short time period!

We have three more days to collect as many measurements as possible, and I’m looking to make the most of it.  Good night from Oliktok!

The sun sets over the Arctic Ocean.  Good night!

The sun trying to set over the Arctic Ocean at 11 pm. Good night!

Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto

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When we set out for Oliktok, things seemed somewhat straightforward — the airplanes had just come off of consecutive campaigns to Utah and Japan where the team did not have to use the remote control transmitter once.  It was basically a “launch and monitor” situation where the aircraft’s autopilot did all of the flying, including take-offs and landings.  It was natural that we were expecting similar performance for ERASMUS, but soon after arriving, it became apparent that this one would be different.  The impact of the USAF radar on our plane’s performance has been substantial, but today we were finally back at a place where we felt we had a pretty good plan for letting the autopilot do its thing.  Get the aircraft quickly up to an altitude where we seemed to be out of reach of the radar, and, with the help of multiplexers sent up from CU via Alaska Airlines this past weekend, monitor it very carefully while it performed its profiling, all while keeping the wings as level as possible in order to expose as little target as possible to the radar beam.

The DataHawk flying past the USAF radars, with wings as level as possible.

The DataHawk flying past the USAF radars, with wings as level as possible.

Unfortunately, the weather had different ideas.  This morning started as windy and rainy — Will and I had the first shift and, together with Al, set out and got two hand-flown profiles in.  I have to say that both Will and Nathan have done an incredible job hand-flying these profiles.  It is not easy to reliably fly an airplane with a 1 m wingspan several hundred meters above your head, but both have done so with great skill and confidence.  After flying two profiles to the cloud base around 400 m, it was our turn to come in and get some rest while Nathan and Dale took over profiling duty.  However, conditions rapidly deteriorated during their shift, with cloud-level coming down to around 100 m, right near the top of the radar “danger-zone” — insert Top Gun references at will — making it very challenging to even get a plane launched without it either being interfered with by the radar, or reaching into the lowest cloud layers.  Therefore, flights were scrapped for the rest of the morning.  Will and I headed back out after lunch to see if things had changed, but they had not.  We spent the rest of the afternoon getting work done in the USAF facility, including plane preparation and calibration of some of our sensors.  With the limited equipment we had, this calibration exercise very much felt like a high school science experiment.

Nathan in the USAF science lab -- here we're attempting to calibrate the Infrared temperature sensors we have on board the airplane using a bowl of water whose temperature we can vary.

Nathan in the USAF science lab — here we’re attempting to calibrate the Infrared temperature sensors we have on board the airplane using a bowl of water whose temperature we can vary.

This evening, we were on the fence about whether to go back out — the clouds were still hanging out at 100 meters, it was still raining, and the temperature had dropped.  On the bright side, the winds died down a bit, which was just enough for me to say “let’s give it a go”.  So, Will and I headed out with the initial intention of running some tests to see if our new system setup was working correctly.  Dale decided to join, and we successfully tested the system.  By this time (right around 745 pm), the clouds had lifted somewhat, and we decided to let the autopilot do its thing!  The result was two great flights, with most of the time spent between 150-300 m, where the clouds were hanging out.  During the second flight, some lower cloud layers (back down to 100 m) started moving in, so after landing we decided not to launch a 9pm flight.  Tomorrow the weather is supposed to clear up, and we’re looking to take full advantage!

The first autopilot flight flown this evening.  As great of a job as Nathan and Will have been doing on the controller, the autopilot is still substantially smoother, improving profile quality.

The first autopilot flight flown this evening. As great of a job as Nathan and Will have been doing on the controller, the autopilot is still substantially smoother, improving profile quality.

A composite figure of all of the profiles flown since August 4.  The colors represent temperature, the horizontal axis represent the dates, and the vertical axis the height (in meters) above the surface.

A composite figure of all of the profiles flown since August 4. The colors represent temperature, the horizontal axis represent the dates, and the vertical axis the height (in meters) above the surface.

Settling down…

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This morning I made the decision to transition to the operational mode that we had been hoping to execute from day one.  The long hours of troubleshooting the radar issues have been wearing on everyone and today we split up into two teams, with each team taking two profiles (one per hour) at a time and then trading off with the other team.  Doing so has ensured that everyone gets some opportunity for “down time”, and even after one day it is obvious that all are feeling better.  Doing this allowed us to get eight solid profiles today before the rain and wind became too intense.  During the downtime, I even had a chance to help Al release one of the twice-daily radiosondes (weather balloons) that the DOE ARM program launches from Oliktok!

Launching the 930 ADT sounding from Oliktok!

Launching the 930 ADT sounding from Oliktok!

A sundog seen at Oliktok today.

A sundog seen at Oliktok today.

So far, I haven’t mentioned much about Al Bendure’s role in this project.  Al, who works for Sandia National Lab, has been a fantastic help, providing a constant wildlife watch, communicating with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and other aviators about our flight activities, and periodically “talking shop” with his fellow pilots (Will and Nathan).  The photos from previous blog posts show the sort of wildlife that can be found around here, so it is good to know that someone is keeping a watchful eye out while we have our heads down to make the scientific measurements!  Thanks Al!

Al in his "casual" bear-watching pose.

Al in his “casual” bear-watching pose.

Will prepares for flight, as Al provides a watchful eye from his perch in the bed of the pickup.

Will prepares for flight, as Al provides a watchful eye from his perch in the bed of the pickup.

The other good news today is that Wessley King, the AMF3 site operator who spends a lot of time up here on the North Slope, was able to dodge drilling rigs to get to Deadhorse and pick up some packages that were sent up to us earlier this week from Boulder.  These packages have some extra equipment which should help us better deal with the radar interference issue.  We spent the rainy evening getting this stuff installed into one of our planes and the few test flights that we completed were very promising!  Hopefully this will allow us to increase our automated flight, and take a bit of the burden of flying the aircraft off of Will and Nathan.  More on this tomorrow!

Wessley (left) and Nathan (right) talking in between flights.

Wessley (left) and Nathan (right) talking in between flights.

Reflections at the halfway point

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Well, just like that, this two-week campaign is half over.  It has gone quickly, but not at all as I had envisioned it going in.  The issues that we’ve been having with radar interference have really made for some long days.  Coming in, the plan was for our four team members to split up into two teams of two, and work shifts of four hours at a time.  That way, everyone would get at least some rest during the day to keep up with laundry, exercise, sleeping, or whatever.  But because of the issues we’ve been having, all four of us have basically been going for 14 hours per day, and I can tell that it’s starting to take its toll.  As deflating as the interference issues can be, I think that the fact that some of the air has been let out of the balloon is just simply people needing some more rest.

This morning, we got up and got ready to go.  But as we were sitting down for breakfast, it started raining hard enough that flights were not an option.  We went out to the AMF to work on aircraft and computer code.  It wasn’t long until our friend the grizzly bear came back to visit.  Because he was quickly bearing down on the AMF3, we were asked to quickly pack our things and head back to the USAF facility.  Apparently, the bear had similar ideas, as he spent about 25 minutes hunting geese in a pond about 10 yards from the radar station.  While it was cool to see the bear up close, at this point it would have been better to keep flying!

The grizzly bear that visited us at the AMF and USAF facility today.

The grizzly bear that visited us at the AMF and USAF facility today.

The bear peeking over the edge of the Oliktok Point runway, while hunting down foxes.

The bear peeking over the edge of the Oliktok Point runway, while hunting down foxes.

After lunch, we were able to get back out and continue our operations.  During this time, we were able to fly three profiles, and one low level flight.  The exciting part here is that one of the profiles and the low-level flight were flown almost entirely by autopilot.  During the profile flight, the clouds dropped quickly and at the top of the 500 m profile we found ourselves in cloud.  Unfortunately, the water droplets clogged our pitot tube, a small device that can tell us how fast the airplane is moving relative to the air, which made the autopilot think that the airplane had lost all of its airspeed.  So it went full throttle and rapidly descended, at which point Nathan took over and brought it in for a safe landing.  During the low-altitude flight, the radar got us while flying at 20 m, resulting in an inadvertent landing.  In both instances, the autopilot reacted exactly as it should have to the information it was given, but unfortunately outside influences (cloud/rain droplets and electromagnetic interference) led to that information being incorrect!

Our first successful autopilot profile -- can you tell which parts of the flight were flown by the autopilot and which by the human pilot?

Our first successful autopilot profile — can you tell which parts of the flight were flown by the autopilot and which by the human pilot?

After dinner, we headed back out to take advantage of the good weather conditions.  We completed some additional flights, including a substantial amount of additional autopilot control.  While we can not avoid the radar interference completely, we’ve found that our best bet to do so is either really close to the surface, or above the radar’s scanning pattern.  Therefore, we’ll continue to look to do flights at 5-10 m above the surface, or above 200 m, where the radar does not seem to scan.  Tomorrow, we’re supposed to get some parts in from Deadhorse that were shipped up from Colorado when we first figured out that the radar was causing our issues — assuming that the person going to get them can get around the many oil rigs currently moving on the road between here and Deadhorse!  These parts should help us to more confidently go after additional profiles from 200 m up.

Profiles and fog and bears, oh my…

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Having flown the series of profiles yesterday afternoon and evening, we were very much looking forward to more of the same today.  When we woke up this morning, the winds had died down, but unfortunately there was a very thick blanket of shallow, but very dense fog.  While this would have been very exciting to make measurements in if our autopilot was not getting crippled by the radar at low altitude, flying manually in fog is a non-starter since it would be very difficult for the pilot to see the aircraft as they’re operating.  So, we spent an hour or so working on our computer programs, doing laundry (it still needs to get done, even in the field!), and catching up on e-mails.  Once the fog lifted, we headed straight out to the runway to begin flying again and were able to launch our first plane right around 900 am.  It seems as though our current strategy of rocketing up from the surface to 200 m, and then doing a gradual profile up from there is working very well.  We were able to successfully repeat this throughout the day, without getting zapped by the radar once.

Morning sunshine to the east of Oliktok Point.  The shallow fog layer that grounded us this morning can be seen along the horizon.

Morning sunshine to the east of Oliktok Point. The shallow fog layer that grounded us this morning can be seen along the horizon.

Gijs launching one of several DataHawks from the runway this morning.

Gijs launching one of several DataHawks from the runway this morning.

The weather was very variable today, with the atmosphere warming rapidly after the fog burned off (it got up to 60 degrees today (!) leading to the first widespread presence of mosquitos).  However, the wind shifted in the middle of the day and the afternoon cooled down dramatically.  The day’s temperature profiles are shown below, and illustrate how variable the atmosphere was today.  The blue-colored profiles were the first from this morning, while the red profiles were the last ones before dinner.  You can see the different layers, the near-surface air heating quickly throughout the morning and the subsequent decrease in temperature towards the later afternoon.

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Profiles from the seven flights flown today. The blue colored profiles were from earlier in the day, the green ones from the middle of the day, and the red ones from later on in the day.

Unfortunately, this evening we were not able to profile due to the presence of a few grizzly bears.  One of these bears was really massive — probably the size of a small car — and seemed to like the idea of hanging around the hangar and the AMF3.  Fortunately, Al had spotted them from a long way away, and had kept a careful eye on their movement and progress.  I am really amazed at how quickly these animals can cover a large distance over the tundra.  The presence of the bears, in combination with more rolling fog banks, made it unsafe for us to continue our flights after dinner.  Tomorrow is another day, but for now, I’ll leave you with some more photos of the wildlife here, and some mirage photos of the offshore sea ice, taken by Will.

Icebergs and the offshore sea ice, with full mirage effect due to the cold ocean surface.

Icebergs and the offshore sea ice, with full mirage effect.

Caribou coming over to say hello.

Caribou coming over to say hello.

The geese that populate the tundra and ponds around the AMF3 and Oliktok Point USAF facility.

The geese that populate the tundra and ponds around the AMF3 and Oliktok Point USAF facility.

 

Foiled…

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The reality of field work is sometimes an ugly one.  In an ideal world, you show up to your site, the weather’s good, your instruments and tools work, and you get a fantastic dataset.  That, through preparation of your team and your equipment (and usually by a little bit of luck on the weather side) is what you hope for, but you do your best to plan for anything else that may come up.  For this campaign, we prepared our equipment as had been done for previous successful campaigns, made sure that we had more than enough stuff with us, shipped everything a few days earlier than required, and even (so far) got lucky with good weather.  But as I alluded to in the previous post, getting the aircraft flying as they should has been challenging, and Dale, Nathan, Will and I have spent the last three days troubleshooting, fixing, and learning about the situation — in the process we’ve launched and recovered 53 airplanes!

A map showing all of the flights (53 (!) in total) completed over the last three days in order to try to troubleshoot the aircraft issues we have been having.

A map showing all of the flights (53 (!) in total) completed over the last three days in order to try to troubleshoot the aircraft issues we have been having.

At this point, it has become increasingly likely that what we are being impacted by something beyond our control.  As crazy as it sounds, with a bunch of testing, it is becoming more and more likely that the cause behind all of our troubles is interference from the USAF radar facility.  What makes this all the more challenging is that we know very little about this radar (we asked for details but were told we don’t have the correct clearances to obtain that information), and we can’t turn it off to test to see whether our theory is true (we know better than to ask them to turn it off for a while!).  Fortunately, we’ve been able to gain a small amount of knowledge through the internet (thanks Wikipedia!).  In the end, what this means for us is that nearly every time our aircraft is flying somewhere between 30 and 100 meters for any extended period of time, our autopilot is being impacted to the point where it nearly cripples the plane.  This was confirmed yesterday afternoon through a series of test flights where we used a remote control handset to hand fly the plane at a series of altitudes.  The frequency with which our autopilot was impacted upon reaching ~50 meters was astonishing.

The DataHawk being launched in front of the radar facility that appears to be giving us a whole load of trouble.

The DataHawk being launched in front of the radar facility that appears to be giving us a whole load of trouble.

So how do we fix it?  Well, we’re still working on this, but the first idea was to shield the sensitive equipment from the radar’s impact and change our flight plans to avoid this area of elevated exposure.  The second part can be done easily, but will not guarantee success since the airplane will still need to pass through the 100 meter altitude in order to get above the radar beam.  The shielding is substantially tougher, and we decided that our best chance was to wrap the payload bay with aluminum foil.  We did so after dinner, performed some initial test flights and were disappointed to find that this did not seem to help at all.  Next, Dale dissected the aircraft a bit further in order to add extra shielding to pretty much anything that could take it, but this again did not solve things.  The nice thing about the extended daylight hours up here is that you could essentially troubleshoot things and continue test flying throughout the night, if necessary.  However, the unfortunate thing about those extended daylight hours is that you never have a natural stopping point and there is extreme temptation to continue working on things until you’ve got them figured out.  The body can only take so much of that before fatigue becomes a real issue, and by the end of last night I could tell that the team is getting tired from the long days up here without the beneficial lift that flying successful missions brings with it.

A foil-wrapped DataHawk 2 payload bay.  Unfortunately, this did not completely solve our problem...

A foil-wrapped DataHawk 2 payload bay. Unfortunately, this did not completely solve our problem…

This morning, we spent a bit more time troubleshooting and found that while not 100% repeatable, what we had experienced the day before was again happening frequently.  Without additional avenues to pursue, at lunch time we decided that it was time to begin going after some atmospheric measurements (what we came here to do in the first place!!).  To do so, we kept our flights to manual mode only, and had Will and Nathan perform hand-flown profiles through the lower Arctic atmosphere.  By applying maximum climb rate to get through the “danger zone”, we were able to, for the most part, get the plane to an altitude where it seems to be out of reach of the radar.  This has allowed us to capture hourly profiles of the lowest 500 m of the atmosphere between around 11 am and 9 pm today.  I can’t tell you how good it feels to begin collecting measurements — we’ll do more of this tomorrow while simultaneously trying to continue troubleshooting the radar interference.

Temperature profiles from the surface to 500 m above the surface from 6 August.  These were collected roughly once per hour, with the earliest profiles (starting around 11 am) in blue, and the latest profiles in red.

Temperature profiles from the surface to 500 m above the surface from 6 August. These were collected roughly once per hour, with the earliest profiles (starting around 11 am) in blue, and the latest profiles in red.

A bear of a day…

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We woke  up to a windy morning — somewhat surprising, given the weather forecast — but winds were at a low enough level that we made the decision to prepare to fly.  Before we could get out the door, however, Al let us know that the rig that had been stuck had made it to a pull off and that the road would be open for at least a few hours.  So, he and I took the one truck we had on site, dropped Dale, Nathan and Will off at the AMF3, and then set out on the 15 mile drive to Kuparuk Camp to retrieve our rental truck.  After doing so and returning to Oliktok, I caught up with the rest of the group and we prepared for test flights.

Dale, Nathan and Will prepare to launch the DataHawk 2 from the runway.

Dale, Nathan and Will prepare to launch the DataHawk 2 from the runway.

In planning for the deployment, we’d decided that it would likely make sense to operate out of the pickup truck near the southwest end of the USAF runway.  Approximately five minutes after having set up our ground station out there, we noticed a large creature moving around the tundra.  Sure enough, it was a brown (grizzly) bear, apparently foraging for food by digging holes in the tundra and rooting around in there with his nose.  We determined that the bear was far enough away for us to continue doing what we were doing so long as one of us kept a close eye on the bear’s position.

A photo (from a safe distance!) of the grizzly bear we called "Cinnabun" (due to its cinnamon color) who combed the tundra for snacks for much of the afternoon.

A photo (from a safe distance!) of the grizzly bear we called “Cinnabun” (due to its cinnamon color) who combed the tundra for snacks for much of the afternoon.

With the winds subsiding a bit, I wish that I could say that we had a terrific day filled with flights — unfortunately, that is not the case.  Although the bear did come close enough for us to head inside for a little while, it was ultimately our equipment that most directly impacted our operations.  Before departing for Oliktok, our team, and others, tested the equipment and code to make sure that everything was working as it should.  But given the struggles we had trying to fly today, it would not have been evident.  Beginning right before lunch, we executed a series of test flights with very mixed results.  We still have all of our equipment, but currently the aircraft are not flying as intended, which makes them difficult to control to the degree that we would like.  I can’t tell you how frustrating that is given that the weather was very reasonable for flying this afternoon.  With one hour left before dinner, Dale, Will and Nathan are working hard to both diagnose what was going on within aircraft’s computer that could result in the struggles we faced and to repair the minor aircraft damage that occurred as a result of rough landings.  I’m really hoping that by tomorrow, which is also forecast to be very reasonable from a weather perspective, things will be ready to go and we can get out to collect the scientific data that we’re here to gather.  Time will tell…