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Picture a big record player

by Anne Corwin

January 21, 1999

Wow...so much has happened since my last journal entry. I've become acquainted with the Wright Flyer model up-close and personally due to the nature of my most recent assignments. There is a list of "action items"--activities and documents that must be performed and prepared prior to starting the test--that I've been working from at the direction of my boss, Pete Zell, who is the test manager of this project.

The first item I was assigned from this list was to prepare a model support setup plan. The purpose of this plan is to describe how the model will be supported in the tunnel. It takes into consideration the available hardware, the dimensions of the model, and the inherent limits of the facility. The Wright Flyer is something of a special case as compared to models that the facility tests on a regular basis: those tend to be supported by three struts (picture long metal sticks poking up from the tunnel floor), arranged so that the tips of both wings each have their own strut. and so does either the nose or the tail, depending on the desired orientation. In the case of the Wright Flyer, the model is going to be mounted on a sting, which in turn will be mounted on ONE of the struts. The sting is like a horizontal metal extension that is attached to a thick vertical metal pole. This allows the model to be positioned just about over the center of the tunnel turntable. (Picture a big record player embedded into the floor of the tunnel). Anyway, a large part of my job was to figure out the angle at which the turntable should be positioned so that the nose of the plane would point right at the air flow, rather than meet it at an angle. I drew a scaled drawing of the turntable, and had to figure out from given lengths and angles what the optimum equipment positions would be for this test. The math was fun; it reminded me of word problems from when I took geometry in high school. I don't know what I'd do without the Pythagorean Theorem!

This kind of work often reminds me of detective work: you have to take all the clues and "given" quantities available, and use them to find your answer by determining relationships between them. It's also a continuous reminder of how what you learn in school really DOES apply in real life.

My next assignment was to devise a rigging plan for the Wright Flyer. A rigging plan is something that describes how the model will be secured and lifted into the tunnel. This model is particularly delicate, so much care must be taken in order to ensure that it does not break on being lifted in. The rigging plan assignment was something of a turning point in my activities here at NASA, at least for now. I've spent most of the past 6 months here on the computer, rather than out "in the field", so to speak, which in this case consists of a bunch of huge dusty warehouses and shop areas. In order to develop a rigging plan, I had to go all over the place hunting for cables and beams. I found myself in slightly scary places that looked as if nobody had been there for years. (I also discovered the wonders of cargo pants: recently, I've had to carry around pens, pencils, measuring tape, a notebook, and a calculator wherever I go, and regular pockets just don't cut it.) I saw and talked to a few mechanics and other assorted personnel on my many searches. They didn't mind at all that I was in there, but I was always a little self-conscious because though I am 20 years old, 99% of the people that know me say I look about 15. I was afraid at first that anyone who saw me would think I was some random kid running around plotting to induce mass disorganization in a generally ordered environment. (I always made sure to wear my ID badge!)

So far, I think the most difficult thing about my assignments has been simply believing that I have the abilities and background to complete them. I keep thinking things along the lines of, "I can't believe they're letting me do this!" The way my job is structured, there is nobody looking over my shoulder or coming after me to make sure I get all my work done. If I don't understand something, it's my responsibility to learn about it until I do. It amazes me that I have not yet come up against anything I have not been able to figure out. Well, it's time for me to go do some last-minute fine-tuning of my data entry software so it can be tested over the network. Until next time,
Anne