The defining feature of the KAO is, of course, that it has a hole carved
out in the side of it, and has a telescope mounted in the cavity (the bottom
of the picture is facing towards the front of the plane).
To get a better view of the telescope, we could climb into the
telescope cavity with Terry, or we could lift the telescope out of the plane with a
very powerful crane.
This is the telescope without the KAO. The KAO's telescope is a
conventional Cassegrain reflector with a 36-inch (91.5 cm) aperture, designed
primarily for observations in the 1- to 500-micron spectral range. The telescope looks
out the left side of the aircraft at an elevation of between 35 and 75 degrees. The KAO
performs astronomical observations analogous to those made in ground-based or
space-based telescopes. The KAO's observing capabilities fill a unique niche in
astronomical science, however. Its flight capability allows it to rise above much of the water vapor in the Earth's atmosphere (allowing observations of infrared radiation which is
blocked before reaching ground-based facilities), as well as to travel to almost any
point on the Earth's surface for an observation. Between flights the
facility is ground-based, allowing systems development, maintenance, and repair.
Here is a simplified diagram of the telescope mounted inside the
KAO. Light enters the top of the telescope and is reflected and focussed by the
curved Primary Mirror. The light is then reflected off of the Secondary Mirror to
the Tertiary Flat mirror. The Tertiary Flat mirror is just a flat mirror of polished aluminum that reflects the light of the telescope through the window of the mounting
flange. The entire telescope rests on an air bearing powered by the compressors in the back of the plane. The telescope cavity and the telescope itself are kept chilled by the extreme altitude and the liquid nitrogen, also in the back
of the plane.