Social media followers and news media representatives from across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom came to the high desert of Southern California May 20 to learn about a NASA project that is investigating the effects of alternative fuels on the environment.
Based at NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center's facilities in Palmdale and Edwards Air Force Base, California, the NASA Social focused on the Alternative Fuel Effects on Contrails and Cruise Emissions, or ACCESS II, research effort and a look at what's new in aerospace research at NASA Armstrong's facilities.
The ACCESS II research supports NASA Aeronautics' strategic vision, one of whose goals is to enable transition of the aviation industry to low-carbon fuels and alternative propulsion systems.
The ACCESS II campaign is a joint project involving NASA Armstrong, NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, and Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, along with partner agencies the German Aerospace Agency (DLR) and the National Research Council (NRC) of Canada.
Key speakers during briefings on ACCESS II included NASA Langley's Bruce Anderson, ACCESS II chief scientist and principal investigator; NASA Glenn's Rubén Del Rosario, NASA Aeronautics Fixed Wing Project manager; and NASA Armstrong's Gary Martin, deputy project manager for the Fixed Wing project.
Four research aircraft have been involved in the ACCESS II campaign -- the German Aerospace Center's Falcon 20-E5, the National Research Council of Canada's CT-133, NASA's four-engine DC-8 flying laboratory and NASA's HU-25C Guardian. In addition to learning about the aircraft involved in the missions, event attendees were able to board the DC-8 and HU-25C.
Following presentations and tours at NASA Armstrong's Bldg. 703 in Palmdale, many of the attendees were transported some 40 miles to NASA Armstrong's main campus at Edwards, where they toured aircraft hangars, experimental fabrication facilities, the model shop and key historic aircraft.
Attendees learned first-hand from NASA Armstrong employees about NASA aeronautics research and work at the center, including a panel session with NASA Armstrong flight test engineers Michelle Haupt and Tom Jones and research pilots Nils Larson, Hernan Posada and Jim Less.
NASA continues to push for aeronautics innovations, said Jones.
"What gets me to work everyday is what we are trying to do, which is to literally change the world," he said.
For example, Langley and Armstrong are working on steps to remove technical and regulatory barriers that currently prohibit commercial supersonic flight over land.
"I see my family on the East Coast [only] once or twice a year. I want to see them more," he added.
While it was clear that the panel members all enjoyed their work, Posada, who pilots unmanned vehicles, noted the work is complex.
"This is not a video game. We treat it like we are in the aircraft even if we are thousands of miles away from the mission we are flying," he said.
When asked by a social media attendee what excited them the most about their work, Larson had a ready quip:
"We have really cool toys to play with. We never had to grow up!"
The tours offered a ton of "eye candy," said social media attendee Susan Hosking, including her first look at the Global Hawk aircraft NASA flies for environmental missions, such as an upcoming hurricane mission. The alternative fuels research, environmental missions and work inspired by birds in flight were, in her words, "close to my heart."
Matt Nicolaysen of Oakdale, California, was surprised at the quantity of aircraft involved in experimentation and tests.
"It made me realize there is more going on than we hear about," he added.
NASA Social participant Rob Drysdale, a project manager and information technology consultant from Toronto, Canada, said he is an aviation and space enthusiast who is concerned about the environment and climate change. For him, this was an event that matched his interests.
"The ACCESS II research really interested me because the National Research Council of Canada is a partner," Drysdale said. "I liked seeing the planes and seeing the passion of the people doing this work."
Social media attendee Michelle Cassel, a financial manager in the aviation industry in Ontario, Canada, said she appreciated the tour of NASA Armstrong's experimental fabrication shop, where "designs come to life." She added that she enjoyed sitting in the pilot's seat of NASA Langley's HU-25C, "although they would not let me touch the buttons!"
NASA photos by Tom Tschida