Ebb and Flow: Summer 2012

I go back and forth between my blog and my journal. And I’ve become so introspective with that notebook, writing about dreams and situations all in an effort to get to the bottom of it all. But without further ado, I give you the happenings of summer 2012:

This is my office. The desk is in the back.

Through the trickle down process, I accepted a position in Parks College’s SURE program— Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, a program in which undergraduates research a certain facet of their studies and, with guidance from a faculty mentor, publish their findings. In sort of a lackluster way, I am doing that. Working with lovely individuals of the Center for Aviation Safety Research, located conveniently in McDonnell Douglas Hall at SLU, I am working with our yet to be attained UAV, or more specifically, UAS— an unmanned aerial system. A drone, one might say. It is not just a vehicle; the flight article is only one component of many, among the launcher, the catcher, the trailer, and payload. In essence, we bought a very expensive remote control airplane in an effort to stay on the forefront of aviation.

My day-to-day tasks involve a lot of writing, a skill set of mine that I had no idea I would use this summer. I’ve settled quite comfortably in my very expensive office, our Canadair Regional Jet simulator room. (When things get slow, I may or may not turn it on to shoot approaches). The UAS is a large operation and requires finesse and procedures— exactly what I am tackling. The manufacturer is mum on their checklists for the aircraft, and it is my duty to research what other UAS users are doing to ensure a safe operation. While it is exciting that I am directly responsible for the content of these checklists, it’s terrifying that I am directly responsible for the content of these checklists. Fortunately, I have oversight from skilled UAS pilots, and I won’t be liable for any mishaps (we’re prodding the manufacturer for their rendition of procedures, but it doesn’t hurt to have an in-house safeguard).

Internal Pilot station 

I’m also writing proposed academic minors to incorporate the UAS. While I’m not at liberty to discuss exactly what these minors will be, for they are in the preliminary stages of production, I will tell you that all students in the STEM realm will be pleased that the UAS could be of use to their careers. In an effort to provide a fully enriching experience for these minors, which will eventually become an entire major in UAS, we have purchased a simulator comprised of three stations: an internal pilot station, a payload operator station, and a master command (instructor) station.

You guessed it— I found a way to tie in coffee to all of this. The company that provided the simulation software and hardware is based in Israel; their representative traveled to the states for a week to install and train us on the equipment. Our trainer brought Turkish coffee to share, and while it wasn’t my favorite coffee ever, I certainly don’t see the need to add milk or sugar ever again— I like my coffee how I like my men: hot, dark, and bitter.

The real deal
Hot. Gritty. Just the way I like it.

Tiny, tiny airspace in blue to the left

So far, the summer has proven to be adventure filled. We can’t fly the UAS near the city at our home base, Downtown Airport (CPS)—the airspace is too congested—so the team has traveled to southern Illinois and Fort Leonard Wood to find suitable locations in which to operate our UAS. I accompanied them to Cannon Range several times at a firing range for our joint military services— and what a terrifying yet humbling experience. The airspace above the range is restricted to general aviation, meaning that Joe Doe can’t fly his Cessna through the area without being pummeled by A10 Warthogs. Driving through the place, scattered with old trailers painted like mosques and abandoned vehicles with cardboard humans, this looked like a war zone. I elaborate.

Laser eye protection

We arrived in late afternoon to the range; the gate was closed and a large red flag swayed in the light, hot breeze. Our coordinator called the Major on the callbox, who said, “Enter as quickly as you can.” Why? Because moments after we meandered down the long driveway and into the parking lot, I heard aircraft above me. A soldier greeted us at the vehicle and handed us laser glasses to protect us from the sighting equipment. Through the haze, it was nearly impossible to find the planes, but when I spotted them, they were in nose dives. Seconds later, a horrible noise, much like a bunch of pissed off hive of bees, sounded and white clouds of dust appeared down range. It turns out that those bees were metal and in a group of 1,000— bullets. My heart thumping, my mind racing, I came to the conclusion that this exhilarating experience was practice for my country’s protection.

It looks like much more fun than it is; mostly, I’m behind a desk all day, reading over other’s meticulous work and analyzing how we might incorporate it into our operations. I’m more than thrilled to have this experience, as I am working with highly knowledgeable personnel in aviation— suffice it to say that I’ve learned more in informal conversation than I have in most semesters.

In other news, I am working on becoming a Starbucks Gold Card member, because I’m snooty and want the perks— but the best things in life are free.

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