Chocks away for the Cloud Lab: Installation and test flight in the bag.

It is going to be quite difficult to avoid this sounding like Big Brother, a number of people have used the phrase “day xxx in the Cloud Lab”…….  Overall the simplest way to describe how our journey will progress it’s way across the US of A is perhaps akin to a road or coach trip. There is a pair of episode plans which has been drawn up over the past few weeks by the production team. Of course this is all built around the weather on the day, just like a research campaign there are a number of objectives which can accommodate different weather. So, as usual there is certainly an element of luck in the whole endeavor.

We arrived a few days ago with an awful lot of Pelicases containing all sounds and vision kit These seem to be the choice of the production team and we have some many different shapes and sizes that they are festooned with brightly coloured camera tape so that they go to the right place.

2013-09-15 19.02.22

It turns out that the most reliable method of moving equipment is as checked luggage, home for the first few days was Titusville which is on the Space Coast, we are operating from the Space Port which is a few miles from the NASA Kennedy Space Centre. In fact the rather awesome sight of the NASA VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) greets us as soon as we are airborne from the apron.


First, as I have already hinted at we had to rig the gondola. The front section is act as a bit of a studio whilst the rear will be home for most of the instrument suite. This does mean that there is some management of the ‘real estate’ inside the gondola so that we can get everything up and running ASAP. Following this we did a short test flight, just to check everything over,this also meant that the guys that I am hugely indebted to for the installation work got a “trip up”. Heartfelt thanks to Greg Kok (DMT – the aerosol kit), Taylor Jones (Sigmaspace LIDAR), John Miller (NOAA – greenhouse gases) and Jennifer Krauel (aka “Bat Lady”). Jennifer also took some great photos during the installation period too.


So all in all it is not much different from other field campaigns I have done over the years, lots of juggling (and it’s not finished yet!).  I have to say that I am much more used to working with our own research aircraft as opposed to the gondola which is relatively new to me so it was always going to be a case of ‘suck it and see’. Remembering that I had already had some familiarisation with a similar gondola in the Skyship shed in Elizabeth City all of which seems a very long time ago now. Myself and Greg (another shout out to that man!) spent a couple of very productive days toiling over the rack. I still have a list of jobs to do to complete the installation but this is slowly going down.


As well as the installation team, we will be meeting up with a number of folks who will be contributing in some way……

Dr David Smith and Finlay MacGuire who work at NASA Kennedy has provided coupons loaded with bacteria and we will expose them inside and outside to investigate the protection afforded by the clouds which in turn prolong the lifetime of these bacteria. David was interviewed by the local TV station

Jennifer Krauel who is a Ph.D. candidate in the McCracken lab, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is the Cloud Lab bat expert, she has a bat detector which we will lower over the side of the gondola and records the bats ultrasonic calls as they fly around below us.

There are more folks too, but I have work to do back at Dunnellon Airfield, the GoogleMaps image of which appears to have an airship parked up, but this can’t be our Cloud Lab as we only arrived yesterday…… our perhaps it is??

You can follow progress via twitter @BBCCloudLab


About Jim McQuaid

Atmospheric scientist (chemist by birth). Working in the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science (School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds). Often found in close proximity to the FAAM146 research aircraft. Previously found urrently providing some science (and weighing clouds!) to the BBC Cloud Lab project as well as making clouds for BBC Wild Weather series.... (more... @jimmcquaid
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