Chukchi Borderland Project

Daily Updates from

our Teacher at Sea


August 26

My Second Flight:

Just before takeoff.
I went on my second flight today.  YES, it was awesome, except I did not see any polar bears this time.   The mission was called, "Ice Reconnaissance", which means surveying the ice ahead.  We were scouting to see if the ice ahead was "new" ice or "old" ice and to find pathways or "leads" through it.  If the path consists of new ice, then the ship has an easier passage.  If it is older or thicker ice, then the bridge has to kick on the turbines and ram the ice with the ship.

There were five people on the helicopter for this flight including myself.

Pilots:  Lieutenant Commander Bruce Decker and Lieutenant JG Joe Klatt

Mechanic:  AMTC Tim Santmeyer

Ice Surveyor:  MST1 Eldridge McFadden 

Our airtime was approximately one hour, twenty minutes.  I took pictures from the flight; the first one is my favorite. 

Looking forward over the seating area and cockpit.


Forward view of the cockpit.
There are four pilots on board the Polar Star.  I interviewed Lt. Rusty Sloane.  One question to him was, "What does it take to be a pilot in the Coast Guard?"

Basic requirements are a 4-year degree.  You have to be extremely healthy (eyes, ears, teeth, etc.)  and no criminal record.  If you are accepted, you then enter Navy Flight School.  Navy, Coast Guard and Marines all go through this school.

Navy Flight School is located in Pensacola, Florida.  You spend about three months there.  During this time, you are doing the same type of training that astronauts go through, for example, the "Spin-and-Puke" machine.  Water courses are also required (you are placed in a tank and slammed into the water and then required to safely escape).  Engineering courses are taken with three grades being given, 'A', 'B' or an 'F'.  This is Aviation Endoctrined.  This is a very competitive time.  The instructors are doing their best to weed you out of the program.  The next stage, called "Primary Squadron", is even more competitive and more weeding takes place.

View of ice during the flight.


During Primary Squadron, you will learn to fly one-on-one with an instructor.  Eight to twelve months are spent in this stage, depending on the weather.  Practice is not allowed during bad weather.  You practice with the instructor sitting behind you.  Among the techniques learned are dog-fighting, and formation flying.  Simulators are used to help prepare you, along with weekly tests and many hours of studying.  The example given me was that you would even be studying while getting a haircut.  If you make it through this stage, you then move on to "Intermediate School".

During Intermediate School, you are trained to fly in bad weather.  One technique used, involves the instructor pulling a curtain over you, which covers everything but the instrumentation.  He or she may then tell you to land the plane in Columbus, Georgia after taking off from Pensacola, Florida. 

During a flight, you will also be placed in the dark behind the instructor and asked which way the plane is flying:  up, down, right turn, left turn, or even upside down.  After all of this fun, your career choices now begin.  You decide which type of aircraft you would like to specialize in: 

1.)    Helicopter training in Pensacola, Florida

2.)    Jet training in Meridian, Mississippi or Kingsville, Texas

3.)    Propeller training in Corpus Christi, Texas

Flight training requires about six to eight months, at the successful end of which you will earn your wings.  YEA!  Commemorating the achievement is a ceremony that lasts for three days.  All of the training up to this point, requires an investment on the part of the government, of about 1.5 million dollars (one person).  Only two stages left to go.

Hmmmm....flight school....

Fleet Replacement Squadron (FRS) is the next stop, where you are sent to a specific squadron to learn to fly your chosen aircraft.  Self-discipline is essential because you are given a stack of manuals and told to read them, know them, live them.  This part of the training may take three months to one year.

Ship during a fly-by.

During the last part of the training, you are sent to your home squadron.  You are a new pilot  named "Nuggets".  You go through a series of positions in order to ultimately become "Aircraft Commander".  It may take four years to go through "New Pilot", "Co-pilot", "1st Pilot" and finally "Aircraft Commander".  As a New Pilot, it can require three and a half years until you know how to actually fly your specific aircraft.  After four and a half to five years, you will train co-pilots.  Subsequently, you can then begin going on tours.  The whole flight training process from start to finish, can take up to eight years and that after completing your four year degree.

If you have any questions, please e-mail me and I will forward them on to Lt. Rusty Sloane.


Report from Chief Scientist, Rebecca Woodgate, August 27, 2002

Greetings from the Arctic ice - supposedly 9-10/10ths ice cover. Despite that forecast, we have frequently been lucky enough to find large leads of open water through the ice, and can make a heady 7 knots (equivalent to a reasonable jogging pace) or more. Here's hoping that continues. When we really hit the 9-10/10ths, we'll be making more like 2 knots (a country stroll pace) or less. Barrow is now just over a week and 500 miles behind us, the latter as the crow flies (well, ok, Arctic tern perhaps, though we've not seen many), not according to our track which is nearer 1000 miles, and our experiences. We are in the southwestern most region of our CTD box, with the three moorings behind us in the water, recording stoically (I assume) until our return.

From Barrow we headed straight to the mooring and CTD line - an ambitious start with both mooring and CTD teams working long hours to get both operations up and running quickly.  The ice was kind to us on the mooring deployments, though finding open water to deploy was still a reasonable challenge.  We deploy the moorings with the ship nuzzled against the ice, and drifting with the wind, so, since we are aiming for certain water depths in a region of moderately steep (and poorly known) topography, determining the drift is important, but tricky.  Anticipating the latter, we had designed the moorings to be adjustable for water depth, and when a steady 0.3 knot across-isobath drift turned into dead calm, we were glad we had the flexibility!  So, now all three moorings are out, sampling the temperature, salinity and velocity structure of the Arctic Ocean boundary current hourly.  Already thoughts turn to the recovery at the end of the cruise.  Much of the ice near the mooring site was "rotten" (1st year ice, melting away under solar insolation), so we can hope for at least equally open water on our return in a month.  Since the moorings, we have swung into a CTD routine.  Two 12-hour watches cover us through day and night, though with the midnight sun (or midnight fog) the distinction is really one of meal timings.  We are now approaching our 17th cast. Winch issues temporarily slowed the CTD casts, but we now have a work-around and are back up to the maximum drop speed (60 m/min) the CTD likes, and we are set to CTD and sample from now till we get back to the moorings.  I'll write more next time on the water sample programs.  I wouldn't like to get ahead of the reports from our teacher!  I hope you've looked at the website, especially the "getting dressed for being sampling cop" section.  And there was me thinking Gail was just liking the food (which is, as I know you'll be wondering, very good, especially the cakes!).  All's well out here.  With the willing help of the ship's crew, who are marvelous, we are well on our way!  Look after the mainland for us.  Best regards, Rebecca