More from the KAO Team
Project pilot for the KAO, and pilot for the LFS flights
I began to fly when I was 16 years, in high school. My father was a fighter pilot in World War 2, so I guess flying was in my blood. But when I went to college, I thought I was going to be a lawyer. I studied political science at U.C. Santa Barbara. Then I went into the Air Force, and started flying C-141's, and I've been on active duty or in the Reserves and flying ever since.
The "Project Pilot" is what we call the "Mother"--he's the primary pilot for a project, and has to make sure all the other pilots are current and qualified, and he's responsible for testing all new equipment or modifications that might be done to the aircraft. I got involved in a lot of the flight testing for the PFC (Editor's note: the passive flow control--see Sky Fever, page18) which is designed to keep things smooth as air passes over the open telescope cavity.
At NASA Ames I actually fly 7 other kinds of aircraft in addition to the KAO: including a DC8 which studies the atmosphere, the C-130 and the Lear Jet which are used for remote sensing and mapping, and an unusual craft called the YO3, a kind of glider with an engine, that's very silent, and which we use to fly around helicopters and listen to the sound of their rotors!
When everything's working well, flying the KAO is a pretty easy mission... when we're observing the object, we're flying a series of small turns to keep the telescope properly aligned with the object the scientists want to study, flying a curve to keep it on target. Winds are our biggest enemy, and if they're not as forecast you're going drift off track ...you have to think 2 or 3 objects ahead. Some of our flights are pretty long, 2-3 times a week, 52 weeks a year, and we're high up--15% of flights at 45,000 feet, which means special training and precautions for everyone on board--and when you get back down, you feel like you've been through the ringer.
Before we put the PFC in there was definitely much more drag, but I like to remind people we're not flying a normal aircraft here. Of course, the cabin's pressurized, but we've got that hole in our side for the telescope, and that's unpressurized and it does affect the structure. We're flying a highly modified airframe.
I think the most enjoyable missions I've been on were Shoemaker/Levy 9 and Comet Halley. They took a lot of advanced planning and required very specific timing, but they were unique events, and we had the opportunity to go see them!
Mission Director for the Live from the Stratosphere flights
My current job is Assistant Branch Chief, Airborne Astronomy Missions Branch. I `m responsible for various management tasks, including planning for deployments, leading technical projects, working out operations schedules, etc. I also fly on research flights as a Mission Director.
I have Bachelor of Science degree in Physics and Astronomy from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Right after college I worked for Yale University, assisting in the compilation and editing of the Bright Star Catalog. From there, I went to work for the Air Force Geophysics Lab, as a data analyst for their Airborne Ionospheric Observatory, a KC-135 aircraft equipped with atmospheric sensors. This got me hooked on airplanes. My next job was with ITT as a programmer/analyst. By this time I had heard about the KAO and had decided I wanted to work at Ames on the KAO project. After a couple years of establishing contacts here, sending resumes, etc., I was finally hired by one of the KAO support services contractors as a Computer Operator. Then in 1990 I was hired by NASA as a Mission Director. In March of 1993, I became the Assistant Branch Chief for Code OMA.
Personal motivations for the career path I've chosen have been a) my interest in science and the desire to work in a scientific research environment and b) my interest in airplanes. The job I have with NASA allows me to combine these interests.
(Editor's note: Wendy was part of the research team which in 1994 studied Comet Shoemaker Levy 9's impact on Jupiter. She's currently a member of the design team for SOFIA, the planned successor to the KAO.)
Walter E. Miller
I'm part of the support services staff for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory. I've worked here for almost ten years as manager of a small group of engineers and draftsmen which is responsible for design upgrades to KAO telescope system hardware. Prior to working at NASA Ames I was a laser design engineer and consultant. As a child I was always interested in science and technology, and I knew that I would have a career in science or engineering. I studied physics and electrical engineering at MIT, and went to graduate school at Stanford to get an MSEE. The great weather in this part of California quickly convinced me to forsake my roots on the East coast, and I have lived and worked in Silicon Valley since the early 1970's.
My greatest satisfaction on the job comes from seeing equipment which
I have designed in use on board the KAO. My hobby is ham radio, and I
have been licensed since I was a teenager. Among other things, I enjoy
chasing exotic propagation modes by bouncing my radio signal off meteor
trails or the moon. My daughter, Lauren, who is seven years old, occasionally
joins me on amateur radio "mountaintopping" expeditions.