Flight Day, May 5, 1994
by Juan Rivera, Telescope Operator
Tonight I head for Hawaii at 2315 (11:15 PM). Yesterday late in the afternoon a critical piece of equipment called the chopper failed. I worked on it along with two engineers and another electronics technician for several hours before leaving for the day. We found several broken wires but none of them seemed to be causing the failure we were seeing. And then for no reason the problem went away. That's what we call an intermittent fault. It's very hard to fix something if it won't say broken! Since we coul d not get it to stay bad long enough to find the problem, there is every likelihood that it may fail again in flight. And unfortunately, it is absolutely critical. I'm logged on writing this from home, and I know folks are working hard to get it fixed bef ore our flight tonight. I hope they find the problem!
Since I will be flying off for the better part of the month, I have to be sure I pack well for the trip and get all my domestic chores done. So this afternoon, I'm paying bills, packing all my warm weather clothes, and getting organized. Since I live 53 m iles from work, I have a limo scheduled to come and pick me up at 8:30 this evening. That saves my wife from having to drive for 3 hours to take me to work and then drive back home. I'll put that on my expense report. The neighbors probably think I'm rich !
When I arrive at work along with the rest of the folks that are flying to Hawaii on "Air KAO" I'll load my suitcase on board and then stow my lunch and lots of fluids to drink. (I have to run to the market and get that stuff.) At the altitude we fly at (4 1,000 and sometimes 45,000 feet) there is very little humidity and it is easy to get dehydrated. I try to drink at least 2 quarts of water and fruit juice on each flight.
At 2215 (10:15 PM) we will all gather for a preflight briefing in which we will go over the research mission objectives, and problems that might occur, safety procedures for ditching over-water, fires on board, and so forth. (I'm designated firefighter fo r the flight, and also an emergency medical technician). Once the briefing is over I'll grab my oxygen mask and flight plan and head for the aircraft. Once on board, I will be working down a check list making sure all my equipment is set up and operating properly. I'll check my intercom communications and my oxygen mask and regulator, and then check every single fire extinguisher and oxygen bottle on the plane. I do this every flight to re-acquaint myself with their locations. One night my life may depend on knowing how to find that equipment in the dark or when I am injured and not thinking too well. I take flight safety very seriously.
At 30 minutes prior to launch, we will get all the non-flyers off and close the doors. Then everyone will get into their seats and put their headsets on for a communications check. All loose articles will be tied down and stowed and we will be ready for t akeoff. Our chairs are adjustable in about 15 different directions and cost $3000 each! We all rotate them around to face aft during takeoffs and landings so we will be slammed into the back of the chair instead of pulled forward in the case of a high-G ( gravity) force crash landing. The most dangerous part of any flight is the takeoff. If something goes wrong and we loose an engine or blow a tire at the wrong time, we might go sliding off the end of the runway at about 130 miles per hour with over 100,00 0 pounds of fuel on board.
Once we're off the ground, then I start on a second checklist and begin preparing the telescope for observations. I'll get into that on the way to Hawaii tonight. Meanwhile, I am home getting ready to fly tonight, preparations for the flight began early a t work where the day shift began loading liquid nitrogen on board to cool the telescope cavity, supplies for the trip, thousands of pounds of space parts, extra oil for the engines and the air compressors, and so forth. The whole back of the plane will be crammed with equipment and supplies. When we take off tonight, we'll be at our maximum gross weight. On flights like this the plane takes a l-o-n-g time to finally get off the gowned. We all try to guess how many seconds of takeoff roll there will be bef ore we get into the air. I'll guess about 55 seconds tonight.
And one last thought...Several people are already in Hawaii getting everything organized for us so there will be a bus to meet us at 0400 when we land and a hotel to say in, etc. Other folks are helping get the plan ready. But now I have to go, and will s end another report from Hawaii.
Juan Rivera, Telescope Operator