Thursday, April 02, 2015

Yesterday's flight (part two)

So what is it that I found about 30 miles south of Elkins, WV? Why it's the The National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.
The centerpiece of this facility is this massive radio telescope, actually the world's largest.
It's official name is "The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope". No shock there, considering that the late senator was instumental in steering the needed federal tax dollars to the project, undoubtedly with the usual caveat that he would only support it if it was built in his home state. There's a reason that West Virginia has so many federal buildings, including a Coast Guard station (anyone see an ocean anywhere near WV?) and most of them bear his name. The old Klansman certainly new how to bring the bacon home.
This complex has lots of other antennea too, as you can see here. It's also got it's own private airstrip.
The NARO and it's adjacent town, Green Bank, sit at the center of the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, an area in which radio transmissions are sharply limited in order to "facilitate scientific reasearch and military intelligence". (Read: "Because of this place.") As a result, Green Bank, population 143, has become a haven for people who believe that they are affected by electromagnetic transmissions from cell phones and other Wifi devices, which are barred in Green Bank. Yes, some of the people living here actually moved here just because of that. Like thirty of them at last count.
I was nice and respectful, and I shut down my own cell phone and all aircraft avionics before I got here, including my transponder. Admittedly, I was tempted to plug my iphone into my radio/intercom system and broadcast a bit of Jethro Tull, just to brighten the eggheads' day as I flew over. (I did not give in, however.) I also made sure to orbit the center from a distance and avoided crossing over their antennas.
This one below is their 43-meter telescope, currently being used by MIT to study the ionosphere.
Here's the brain box that runs this place. The building in the center of the shot is tha Jansky Lab, where these telescopes are developed, maintained and operated. The other notable building, seen below and to the left of it in the shot, is the museum and vistor center, and it's open to the public.
And as I pull away, here's the town of Green Bank.

I headed back to the northeast, following the mountain valleys and flying off of the VOR recievers instead of the GPS. The GPS makes things too easy and I've gotten shamefully out of practice on using the VOR, so this was a refresher flight for that.
If I'd driven this trip instead of flying, I'd have been on the roads for 3-4 hours one way due to the distance and the fact that there is no direct route to anywhere in these mountains below. But flying? An hour.
The sunshine and lack of clouds makes it look like a nice calm day. Nothing could be farther from the truth, however. The clear air turbulence over these mountains is wearing me out. Several times, the aircraft has suddenly and violently dropped, ascended, or flipped into a steep bank without warning, and my head is sore from being bounced off of the doorframe more than once. It looks nice out, but it's downright violent today.
Hey, what's that over there?
It looks like a fire, or as it's pronounced in West Virginia, a FAHR.
Sure enough--it's a brush fire on the side of the mountain. Fire Department is already on scene and no houses appear to be involved, but there are a few that are close enough that the owners are likely concerned.
I put a few orbits in, but the turbulence was positively medieval here so I didn't linger too long. Besides, it looks like they've pretty much got it handled so there's no need for me to play Air Tanker and throw my last water bottles down on it. Still, I was willing to help if they'd just called up on Guard and asked.

Half an hour later, I was back at my home airport, where the winds were now a ninety-degree cross-wind at 11 knots, gusting to 14. My old 172 is rated for a maximum crosswind of 15 knots so this looked like another great if improptu training opportunity. I came in with just ten degrees flaps, crabbed and upwind wing down, and I was all set to firewall the throttle and execute a go-around if it started to get stupid, but I somehow managed to set it down right on the centerline with hardly a squeak from the tires. What a great ending to a great flight. Time aloft: 4.1 hours.

11 comments:

  1. That is one massive moveable dish.

    Aricebo claims to be the worlds largest radio telescope though. Having been there, I can say that the reflector appears to be bigger, but I don't know enough about the minutae of radio telescopes to tell for sure.

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    1. This one is probably the world's largest fully steerable (full azimuth and elevation) dish.

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    2. Reading their website, it appears that's how they qualify it.

      It's still big, though. PIty I didn't have a basketball or something to drop onto it.

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  2. First. "Clearly this man did not know who he was talking to when he said that, for I've always wanted to take off from a taxiway, and he'd just given me a green light to do it.

    Alas, I did not. I used 32."


    Then.

    "I was nice and respectful, and I shut down my own cell phone and all aircraft avionics before I got here, including my transponder. Admittedly, I was tempted to plug my iphone into my radio/intercom system and broadcast a bit of Jethro Tull, just to brighten the eggheads' day as I flew over. (I did not give in, however.) I also made sure to orbit the center from a distance and avoided crossing over their antennas."

    You feeling ok? Didn't get hit in the head with any boarding steps or anything? ;-)

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    1. Well in the interest of full disclosure, the taxiway there was too short for a take-off.

      And as to not messing with the dishes...I wasn't entirely convinced that they can't go all "death ray" on me and smack me down with some sort of electrical pulse if I annoyed them sufficiently. Maybe I watched too many "B" sci-fi flicks, but...

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  3. We went by there last year on the way to the Cass railroad. I didn't realize they had a visitors center or we might have stopped. You're right, none of the roads goes straight to anywhere, but at least the turbulence was missing at ground level!

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  4. Ooo on the fahr. Not a fan. Beautiful country and pics. Most impressive dish.

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  5. Looks like a great day aloft, just within the bounds of bladder endurance.

    Yep, no one did pork like ol' Bobby Byrd.

    I sure would've been sore tempted to blast a little Locomotive Breath or Stranglehold toward the dish farm, or maybe, just to mess with their heads, Henley's They're Not Here, They're Not Coming.

    And if my fillings ever start picking up rap music, I'm moving to Green Bank.

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  6. Heh, thanks for playing nice with them... :-)

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  7. Those are awesome pics indeed.

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