- MCB Hawaii/ MCAS Kaneohe Bay
Nasa Flies Science Missions Over Hawaii, Operating From McBh
Story by LCpl Luke Kuennen on 02/23/2018
Scientists with NASA conducted a science flight from Marine Corps Base Hawaii (MCBH), Feb. 2, 2018.
The team operates from Marine Corps Air Station, Kaneohe Bay (MCAS), running data collection missions on any day that the weather supports flights.
"We partner with NASA Ames Research Center and NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center for this mission," said Ian McCubbin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the mission coordinator for the campaign. "This mission is called the HyspIRI preparatory airborne campaign, and we're going into our 6th year of flights. We started the campaign in California and were able to survey a diverse set of environments, but of course, no coral reefs or active volcanoes like we have out here in Hawaii."
The data collection allows scientists to observe and map environmental processes, such as coral habitats, lava flows, and volcanic emissions into the atmosphere.
"What we're doing is data collection in preparation for a potential NASA satellite mission," said McCubbin. "We're also validating measurements from current NASA satellites that are up gathering data."
The ER-2 aircraft is able to gather data similar to that of a satellite, as it operates at an altitude of 65,000 ft.
"At our altitude, most of the atmosphere is below us," said Tim Williams, a research test pilot with NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. "Because of that, the difference between what we see and what the satellites gather is really minute."
Operating within the upper five percent of the atmosphere, the lack of oxygen and altered air pressure during ER-2 flights can pose safety issues for the pilots.
"The cabin of the aircraft is pressurized to 30,000 ft.," Williams said. "At that altitude, we're breathing 100 percent oxygen, and there are unique hazards with that. It's possible on the climb up, that you can develop decompression sickness, so we have to be cognizant of that."
Wason Miles, a native Hawaiian and a member of the air crew's life support team, helps to ensure that the ER-2 pilots can complete their missions safely.
"We're basically in charge of taking care of all of the pilot's flight equipment," Miles said. "With the ER-2 specifically, we take care of their pressure suits and actually helping the pilots into their suits."
Miles and his crew inspect and care for each of the pressure suits, which run upwards of 250,000 dollars each.
"Before the pilots even take off, we put them on 100 percent oxygen for an hour to get all of the nitrogen out of their systems," Miles said. "It's similar to what scuba divers can face. If they have nitrogen in their system, they can end up getting what they call the bends, and it'll be a really bad day for that pilot."
In addition to the outstanding service they provide, MCAS also has unique equipment and facilities to ensure the pilots' flights go smoothly, Williams said.
"What we do out here is very weather-dependent, so the flexibility we've experienced with MCAS opening the runway after hours for us has been outstanding," Williams said. "They also have precision approach radar, which is a great way to get the airplane back when we encounter bad weather. This is a great place for us to operate out of, I can't say enough about it."
While the campaign's personnel are working to gather valuable data, they said they are also enjoying their time aboard MCBH.
"The base and MCAS have been just great we're very appreciative," McCubbin said. "The food's great, the people are friendly, and I hope to continue coming back here every year."