Quick Notes

I have once again been delinquent for a few months. A quick catch-up:

  • I have a valid excuse! I started work with GE Research a few months ago, so I’ve been moving and settling in.
  • It is (maybe) finally getting warmer up here in the Frigid North!
  • Fracking” is not the same thing as “frakking”. I went to a presentation a few weeks ago in which the first words out of the speaker’s mouth were, “Fracking is up.” Not being terribly familiar with the natural gas extraction process where the shale is fractured to release the gas, I naturally thought he’d used the Battlestar Galactica term. Not appropriate for a professional environment!

January and February in Rockets

Photo Credit: SpaceX

A quick overview of what’s due to go up/come down in January and February:

Dragon on Falcon 9 (SpaceX): Dragon, made and launched by the private company SpaceX, will demonstrate approach to and docking with the International Space Station per their COTS contract. Currently the target launch date is 7 February, but this may be pushed back by a few days (the launch window each day is pretty small). Upon launch, the unmanned capsule will synchronize orbit with Station, practice maneuvers at a safe distance, and finally approach for docking. Astronauts aboard the station will grab Dragon with the Canadarm2 (eh!), and guide it to the PMA-2 dock on Node 2, between the European and Japanese lab modules (at least, that’s what the SpaceX pictures show). This will be the first time a privately-owned spacecraft has docked with Station.

The Falcon 9 rocket is also made by SpaceX; it is a two-stage rocket with nine LOX/kerosene engines in the first stage,  and one LOX/kerosene engine in the second. Both Dragon and Falcon 9 are currently at Cape Canaveral in preparation for the launch. Continue reading

2011 Update/Recap

Dear Family and Friends,

I hope that your Christmas season was wonderful and that your 2012 has gotten off to a roaring start! I’d love to hear what is new and exciting in your lives, so please feel free to write me a note at any time. My schedule has finally slowed down, giving me time to send you my yearly update. Highlights include research, graduating, job hunting, and a boyfriend!

The majority of my time this past year was occupied with doing propulsion research at Purdue. I was doing an experimental study of the flame structure in combusting droplets of monomethyl hydrazine (a rocket fuel), so I got to make fire and film it with a high-speed movie camera, like Mythbusters. The Mythbusters don’t have to write a Master’s thesis, though. I started writing mine in March, intending to graduate in August. However, it soon became clear that a good thesis would require that my defense date be pushed back to October.

I also wrote a paper for the AIAA Joint Propulsion Conference in San Diego. I flew out there with the rest of my lab at the end of July. Besides presenting my paper, doing some networking, and going to a party on an aircraft carrier (the U.S.S. Midway), I got to visit SpaceX and see some friends and my aunt’s family! The academic side of my life concluded with my defense in mid-October, a frantic all-nighter making the corrections that my committee wanted, and finally the depositing of my thesis.

A quick glance at my non-academic activities at Purdue: February’s much-anticipated Snowpocalyse didn’t really materialize, but did dump enough snow in Indiana to go sledding and birth The Rocket Sled, which produced some great stories. Ask me about it, or see my photo album on Facebook. For spring break in March, I organized a backpacking trip with a few friends in the Appalachian foothills of southern Ohio. It was cold. And awesome.

My sister graduated from the Rice University astrophysics program in May, so I had a wonderful weekend down in Houston catching up with old friends. Also, by Easter, I had been on 1.5 dates with a friend from the Mechanical Engineering department, Andy. He came down to Texas with me in July to meet my parents. We also visited Houston; I gave him the VIP tour of Rice and downtown. Just recently, we took a ski trip. It was an amazing time – I’d never been skiing before, though, so I had a lot of “oh-no-I’m-going-to-die” moments.

Every year, my church in Indiana hosts a Vacation Bible School for elementary-aged children. I got to help on the drama team this year. Singing and jumping up and down for ten minutes straight are both super fun and exhausting! The Intervarsity Christian Fellowship Graduate chapter was again a big part of my life this year; we were praying that God would help us develop a real sense of community, and it’s been wonderful to see how the group has grown both larger and closer.

From mid-November to mid-December, I headed southeast to Wycliffe Bible Translator’s JAARS center near Charlotte, North Carolina. Searching for a job includes a lot of waiting, so I figured that I might as well do something useful in that time. I applied for jobs in the evenings, and volunteered during day. The JAARS center supports, among other things, mission aviation. Light aircraft and helicopters are used to deliver supplies and support Bible translators in extremely remote areas, such as the mountains of Indonesia. I divided my time between programming modifications to a pilot recruiting database and doing high-level concept work on things such as autonomously controlled parachutes.

Currently, I’m still looking for a job. I’ve had a few site interviews, one of which allowed me to see my uncle and his family in December. Shameless plug: If you know of anybody that needs an aerospace engineer/rocket scientist, send them my way!

I wish you the very best in the coming year. Let me know what is new in your lives! As always, if you’d like to glance at what I’m doing, my blog is at http://aglassdarkly.wordpress.com

Stay in touch!

Circle of Fire

Here’s another story that Jim told me; this one started out as a flight to deliver some French folks to a game preserve in Burkina Faso. Again, this is more paraphrased than direct quotation.

“It was after the end of the rainy season, about November, and we were going to land in this game preserve in Burkina Faso. I knew approximately where the runway was, but the grass had grown tall with the rain, and completely covered it. I made a pass over the field, trying to see where the runway might be. I found it – at least I think I did; it was hard to tell – and circled around to land. After I touched down and cut the throttle, one of the front wheels (it was a taildragger aircraft) dropped into a deep hole that had been rooted out by a warthog – remember, everything was overgrown with grass. I looked over at the wing, and the impact had shoved a spar from the landing gear up through the wing. It was a mess, and I was not going to be able to fly that plane out of there. I taxied it in to the airfield and tied it down for storage. We’d have to get a new wing built.
Continue reading

Airplane Ride

One day last week one of the mechanics, Jim, and I were the only ones in the lunch room. He served as a pilot in Africa for thirty years, flying with SIM. He’s still with them, but has been essentially farmed out to JAARS. In addition to starting up their flight service in Niger, he’s also a mechanic and a talented sketch artist. I got him to give me a couple of stories.

“When I was based out of Niamey, Niger,” he started, (things in quotes are more paraphrase than direct quotation) “there was a little boy, about three years old, who loved airplanes. His parents were with World Vision, working up in the desert with the Tuareg people, and every time they came to Niamey he would run around the hangar and look at all the airplanes.

“The World Vision base was out in the desert about two hundred miles north of Niamey. One evening, they had a party or celebration there, and all of the kids were playing around outside. Well, in the dark, this little boy ran across the cover of a dry well – it was rotted through, and gave way. He fell thirty feet, straight down. When the adults lowered someone down on a rope to pull him out, the three-year-old was completely unconscious, and his head was starting to swell. They sent a radio call out to Niamey for Jim to take him to the clinic, and for a plane to be ready to take him to Europe for treatment, if needed. Continue reading

Helios and Ground Loops

Helio Courier in the hangar

I hope you all had a great Thanksgiving! Mine was pretty fun. Two of the families from the hangar get together every year for the meal, so they invited me to join them … good times!

I heard a number of stories last week, so I’ll spread them out over the next few days. I also met some people:

Ray is a pilot-mechanic serving in Cameroon. I’d guess he’s in his mid-thirties; he and his family are at the JAARS center to do his recertifications. (Most of the pilots that JAARS picks to serve overseas have to have extensive flying hours, as well as the FAA Airframe and Powerplant mechanic certifications.) He’s pretty tall, and nearly bald, and when I met him near my apartment on Tuesday he was taking out the trash. He recognized me from the aviation department meeting on Monday, and stopped to say hello. We got to talking, and it turns out that his father is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame, so he knows some people at Purdue. The base in Cameroon, he told me, has a Robinson R44 helicopter and three light aircraft, including a Cessna 206. (We’ve got a PC-6 in the hangar that will be ready to go back there soon.) They had been working out of a really old, small hangar until recently, when they finished work on a new hangar. However, they’re still pretty understaffed. Cameroon is the only base that Wycliffe/JAARS has in Africa, although the different mission aviation organizations do work together. Continue reading

Carriers and Cycling

USS Midway (San Diego)

I had dinner on Friday night with Jim and Jan, a couple who is retired from the Navy and are now volunteering with JAARS/Wycliffe. During his twenty-five or so years with the Navy, Jim served on at least three different aircraft carriers, including the USS Midway – the same one that I got to tour and party on at the beginning of August, in San Diego. He was telling us stories of the Vietnam and Cold Wars, and how Soviet trawlers would like to annoy large American ships by continually crossing their paths, tempting collisions. Carriers are big boats, and they don’t stop or turn easily. Plus, turning a carrier changes the direction of the deck runways, which isn’t good for any pilots who are airborne at the time. Continue reading