Name: Terry Rager
Position: Project pilot for the KAO, and pilot for the LFS flights
I began to fly when I was 16 years old, in high school. My father was a fighter pilot in World War II, 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 air craft. I got involved in a lot of the flight testing for the PFC [Editor's note: the passive flow control, see Sky Fever in the Teacher's Guide] 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: in cluding 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 quiet, 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!