I have spent the last two weeks in town of Alamogordo, near the White Sands in New Mexico. This is by far the longest work trip that I have been on. I was working the night shift, as an operator flight testing an airborne radar I helped develop the control system for. Below are the highlights from the trip, which was not nearly as bad as I expected going out.
The Night Shift
I have never attempted to work the night shift and sleep during the day for such an extended period of time. I was very successful at switching to the strange schedule. I was able to block nearly all of the light from my window and sleep from (4-7)am to (3-5)pm each day. I was the only of the four of us (2 operators and 2 pilots) who was able to fully transition. Today is my first day back on a normal sleep schedule. I was unable to get much sleep, not being able to goto bed until 4:30am, and waking up at 7am, but somehow I’ve managed to stay awake all day.
The flights were from 1am to 4am or 3am to 6am on the White Sands Missile Range. When we started we didn’t have a moon and it was always very dark, but as the weeks went on we got more and more moonlight and better and better views of the White Sands dunes. One flight was a particularly new experience because it was high enough that we needed to use oxygen masks in our unpressurized aircraft. Other than my glasses fogging up, and the need to remove the mask to speak into my headset I didn’t have any issues with it; meaning I never felt any hypoxia symptoms.
One morning after the flight the pilots and crew chief took us to this amazing hole in the wall doughnut shop in town. They are famous for their breakfast burritos, which are small and simple, but very tasty. They make the story here because they have a particular kind of doughnut that I have been searching for since I was five years old. When I was living in South Carolina my parents often took me to a shop that had cake like doughnuts with white icing topped by shards of peanuts. Neither Dunkin nor Krispy Kreme sell this variety, but Daylight did, and it was wonderful. They was just as good as I remember them. I sadly, didn’t make it back before I left.
Cloudcroft and Sunspot
On our Sunday off our crew chief took the pliots and opertators up into the mountains to spend the day. The Sacramento Mountains, just to the east of Alamogordo. The mountains are completely different from the basin floor. On the way up, at a certain elevation all of sudden there are trees and the tempeature drops 15 degrees. It was nice to get out the desert for a bit. We had brunch at a large mountain inn and golf course in Cloudcroft, NM. Then we headed over to the solar observatory at Sunspot. The observatory was very cool and they let you walk right in and see the main level, which is only a small part of it. We got some great views of the basin.
After seeing them from the air and the mountains on Monday I made the drive out to the White Sands Monument. They didn’t have any tours or anything going on, but it was not crowded. It was eerily quiet out there on top of the dunes, and none of my pictures came out very well. I wanted to make my way over to towards the flats, where they have emergency runways for the space shuttle, but it was more than a three hour hike, which in the hot sun of 5:30pm without water was out of the question.