There are two airplanes for this particular mission: The P-3 aircraft which flies at altitudes ranging from as low as 60 m to about 7000 m and the ER-2 which flies at high altitudes — an impressive 20 km up in the atmosphere. Preparations on a normal flight day usually start as early as 04:45 when the first shuttles start transporting the different crews to the Walvis Bay airport. Scientists get pretty busy by making sure that their instruments are calibrated and working well before take-off. It demonstrates how all the different scientists were utilizing what is probably a once-in-a-lifetime chance to conduct experiments and collect data in this region. All the ORACLES Shadowing Students participants got a unique opportunity to fly and see the scientists on the P-3 flights. Simply putting it in context, the P-3 is literally a laboratory inside with so many scientific instruments and sensors attached to it. Once it takes off, my general observation was that the scientists were all pretty glued to their screens making sure they are getting the right measurements and everything was working. Worth noting is the fact that everyone was friendly, willing to show you what the various instruments were measuring and what the different preliminary results were showing. Flight planning was conducted in such a way that the P-3 and ER-2 could fly on the same path, although they cannot fly on the same path for a long time (because the ER-2 is much faster than the P-3). It was absolutely mind-blowing to me the amount of planning and calculations involved in order to align the two planes on the same transect while still keeping in mind the scientific priorities and objectives. The fact that there is such a huge height difference (roughly 10 kilometers) and yet they get to be synchronized to fly on the same path was definitely awesome.
The weather conditions played a huge role in the planning of flights and the activities of the day. One thing I observed from all this is the importance of safely at all times and the fact that it is set as the first priority. My two and a half weeks being an intern at ORACLES have been a memorable one; I will always cherish this experience. From the amazing, interesting, fun-loving people I met to the possibility of future collaborations and networks for the upcoming years, I can safely say my time at ORACLES was definitely worth it.