I grew up in Oshkosh, WI, the headquarters of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). EAA is an international group of recreational pilots and aviation enthusiasts. During the annual gathering, EAA AirVenture, Oshkosh becomes the world's busiest airport, surpassing O'Hare and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Part of the timing of this blog post is because AirVenture is happening this week in Oshkosh. Sadly, I cannot attend, but I thought I would write about how aviation influenced my decision to become a scientist.
My mom's involvement in aviation is what led me to experience multiple EAA Young Eagles rides. The Young Eagles program was founded in 1992 to give kids ages 8-17 their first free airplane ride and in 2016 flew their 2 millionth Young Eagle. I had Young Eagles rides in a Cessna 180, Piper Archer, and in a hot air balloon! During these flights, we learned about the preflight inspection, reviewed aeronautical charts, and I got a chance to fly!
For those unfamiliar, flying is expensive (!!!), so I was not one of those kids who learned to fly before learning to drive. Flying lessons were not financially feasible while I was in college, so I became involved in a student organization at the University of Wisconsin called Badger Aviators. Badger Aviators promotes aviation by hosting weekly ground school (the "book-knowledge" of flying), going on fly-outs, and career talks. I found any way to stay involved in aviation without actually knowing how to fly.
In summer 2014, I was awarded the EAA/GoPro "Go Fly" flight training scholarship. In my application video, I explain why I want to "go fly" and at the end, fly around as a bird. While possibly one of the most humiliating things I have done, it got the desired outcome. Take a look at one of the GoPro videos I made while completing my flight training!
I am extremely fortunate to have such wonderful opportunities to become involved in aviation from a young age. My passion for aviation is what ultimately led me to graduate school at the University of Maryland, where I fly as a scientist on research aircraft. While I cannot fly the twin engine Cessna we operate (I do not have my multi-engine rating), I have the knowledge about flight planning, weather briefing, and aircraft operations that is very useful while working as a scientist. Unfortunately I am not currently flying as a private pilot, but I have plans to earn my instrument rating once I complete graduate school. I hope to come back to WSYS as a mentor again to inspire young women to dream big, just as I was taught.
As I previously mentioned, I'm a Ph.D. student in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science (AOSC) at the University of Maryland (UMD). I am in the atmospheric chemistry research group, mostly focusing on how ozone in the troposphere forms in the North China Plain, the region surrounding the lower Yellow River. However, part of my job as a graduate student is helping to collect air pollution observations on a twin-engine Cessna (there's pictures of N7875E all over this blog!) in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region. We measure a lot of different air pollutants, aerosol properties, and meteorological information:
How do we decide where to measure? Each research flight has a specific flight plan determined by the goals of the flight. For the June 30 flight, for example, we aimed to measure differences in ozone over the water and land. We took measurements in coordination with the Ozone Water-Land Environmental Study (OWLETS-2), which was observing air pollution on Hart Miller Island (photos and video in the above YouTube clip). Our flight plan was designed to cover a broad range of water and land surfaces around the Chesapeake Bay region.
When do we decide to fly? Scientists at the University of Maryland work with air quality forecasters at the Maryland Department of the Environment and other agencies to decide when to fly. Since there is limited funding available to do these research flights, it's important that we measure on the worst air quality days. The synoptic setup also largely determines when we fly since we are looking for particular weather conditions, such as consistent winds. We typically fly ~3 hours nonstop (the maximum duration for our aircraft with our instrument and people load), or up to 6-8 hours if we refuel.
Where do you fly? The aircraft is based at a small airport about 20 minutes way from the University of Maryland. Our flights are largely in the Baltimore/Washington, D.C. region as part of the Regional Atmospheric Measurement Modeling and Prediction Program (RAMMPP). Because of the restricted airspace in and around D.C., we are unable to fly into the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ). Sometimes we fly into Pennsylvania or West Virginia when investigating greenhouse gases in a study called Fluxes of Atmospheric Greenhouse Gases in Maryland (FLAGG-MD). However, we do have opportunities to fly elsewhere. For instance, this summer, we are conducting flights in Long Island Sound and participating in the Long Island Sound Tropospheric Ozone Study (LISTOS). This area is of particular interest because while air pollution levels in the United States have been steadily declining, the New York City metropolitan area has continued to violate past and current air quality standards.
Why use aircraft to study air pollution? While aircraft observations can be costly, airplanes have the ability to capture pollution in a spatial and temporal manner that other means of observations (satellites, ground observations) are limited by. Since air pollution at the surface and aloft are not the same, the use of aircraft can be particularly insightful when trying to understand local air pollution. However, many scientists utilize other measurements in addition to aircraft observations, as well as models in air quality studies. Government agencies, like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), also operate research aircraft for myriad research purposes.
Who flies on the aircraft? Typically we have 2-3 people onboard the aircraft: 1 pilot and 1-2 scientists. The more people on the plane, the less fuel we can carry and thus the shorter we can fly. Scientists from the University of Maryland operate instruments aboard the aircraft, including graduate students like me!