[09/18/2016 09:04 pdt]

The site is in flux, even at this late date. Fourteen plus years of administrating and coding have sent all of the staff through the wringer in more ways than one. Admin is not the easiest with which to work, but we still plod along as instructed.

The mobile platform has been put on hold for a short period due to funding. This site (and the others) is self-supported and we have yet to solicit serious donations, and this means we need to be frugal. Getting everything into the cloud is a wonderful thing and means when the time arrives, all will be available anywhere. The staff is able to work from literally anywhere, but the home base is still just that -- stuck. Once the cash is in place, we will enable admin's freedom. Recent data has shown us bounce rates dropping below 70% and increasing numbers from odd parts of the world, and the inspiration to continue, streamline and expand is flowing. The mobile platform, while difficult to attain, will help to diversify our efforts and keep the four sites moving along with more outside influence. This is a good thing.

Another positive is the fact that we are now valid. All of the coding and bullshit throughout the past four years has finally been passed through the validator. This may not seem like a big deal to readers, but to create an expansive site and work to make it 'valid' means our syntax and coding efforts are recognized by the consortium as correct in every way. The master now displays their logo at the footer.

Also, the Maltese Cross footer has been changed to blood red to match the 'reverse' arrow on the title image. We feel this brings a sense of balance and completion to the layout. The preponderance of deep blue all over the columns was commanding too much attention and the updated coloring breaks things up a bit. The fact that the cross represents a perpetual mourning means it should stand out more than the previous.

The Wind, the Windows, and the Wires

 read ( words)

"Two of the three phobias relate to my day to day life. The wind is one and hydrogen is the other. Let me describe the wind and its pull upon me as well as the manner in which it affects.

During the decade of the zeros, I spent much time within the confines of the Test Section of the HFFAF doing various tasks related to the testing of flow. That section of the ballistic range was integral to nearly every atmospheric reentry vehicle designed in this country -- many of which were in service from the 1950s until today. The Test Section (TS) is an octagonal tapered tunnel through which a ballistic model spacecraft (or other form) is propelled and shadowgraphed. Other measurements are taken during testing such as pressure, ablation points, recombination dimensions, heating, gas cap development, moment of inertia, etc. Any aspect of thermal flow, aerodynamics and thermodynamics can be measured at extremely high speed. The shadowgraphs are in an orthogonal orientation and the process of capturing these images is attained through windows and Kerr technology which was developed in the 1960s. As such, the cleanliness of the TS is paramount to quality and usable film. As the TS was positioned immediately after the expansion tank of a two-stage light gas gun, such cleanliness was difficult to attain and maintain.

I was nearly the sole proprietor of that domain for more than a decade and have spent countless hours inside the tunnel.

test section 1

Compressed image of the test section

The range was made up of several long, narrow rooms, three of which comprised the HFFF and were laid out end-to-end. The gun and shock tunnel passed through all three of these rooms and were roughly four hundred feet long when fully assembled. The three rooms are the gun room, test section, and combustion room. The components of the entire system pass through the blast walls. Each room has several supply and exhaust fans across the roof for ventilating before, during and after testing. In a single room, the fans are capable of completely flushing the volume of air in less than one minute. This is necessary due to the hazardous nature of the combustion and test gases -- most notably, hydrogen. The only points of entry to the entire range are a few blast doors which share a single key, over which the crew had complete control.

This entire description is simply to outline the ability to move air in any direction and at extremely high rates. The single upstairs entry door to the gun room was the air inlet, and the combustion room several hundred feet away was the outlet. The rooms became a large wind tunnel.

At the extreme east end of the test section is an access door. This is the upstream end of the test section and the sabot separation tank (dump tank) is between the gun barrel and test section. We had a method of operating the roof fans in order to keep fresh air flowing through the range and out the west end of the building. There are no windows and very limited access to the rooms in the ballistic ranges, and the necessity for maintaining control of such a dangerous area is obvious.

During business hours, a stream of air was kept flowing through the test section for cleaning and setup. With the massive capacity of the roof fans, keeping a breeze in the test section and other areas was simply a matter of directional control. The door into the dump tank was far enough upstream to facilitate using a portable fan to force fresh air into the test section and out the test cabin. With all of the fans in operation, the air flow was strong and consistent. Throughout many years of working inside the test section, the use of fresh air to overcome such a stale tunnel became a necessity. The inside walls and other surfaces have been coated with the by-products of burning hydrogen, helium, and other gases, as well as the remnants of various solid materials which have been ablated throughout the decades. The atmosphere inside is surreal, confining, and very stale. As a result, air movement is necessary both for the comfort of the occupant and maintaining proper oxygen levels for life safety. With the fans forcing air through the range and through the test section, comfort was rarely an issue. The flow and sound of the fans allowed me to forget the confining and tiring nature of the metal surrounding me. I was able to find a routine and become so accustomed to the interior that it eventually became like a second home. Days, weeks, months, years... That routine was like no other. I grew to count on it and know it very well.

Throughout years of spending many hours per calendar week inside the test section, I began to develop a need to feel the air moving. Enough time had passed that such a need worked its way into other parts of life. Driving home... Air flowing. Arriving home... Wind through the windows. Spending time in campgrounds, malls, anywhere... Wind. Life became an endless desire for the feeling of the air moving around me. I needed it.

And I need it, still.

test section 2

The view from the inside, looking downstream

I no longer spend time within the mighty test section of the HFFF. I now inhabit the remainder of the world with the others. I sit at the desk, I stand in the bar, and I drive the vehicle. All the while I need the air moving or I become extremely uncomfortable. Even in the office with the staff just outside the glass walls, I am fearful of residing where the air is stagnant. Out of doors the feeling is worsened by the sun. Warmth without wind has become the lion's share of my concerns. The sun burns and sends its incredible radiation like arrows into my eyes and skin. The wind can cool me -- ever so slightly -- and the discomfort of the heat subsides. Without the motion however, I sit in fear of smoldering like a leaf beneath the magnifying glass of the world.

This is one of the three phobias I live with on a daily basis.

I have spent the last several years with the fear clinging just as it did in the beginning of the test section work. The wind which is a natural result of uneven heating of the Earth's crust has become a necessity of living each day, no matter my locale. Mexico, Alaska, Japan, Hawaii... All of these places each have their own unique climate and weather patterns, and during the times we spent there the wind was the one factor which allowed me to be even remotely comfortable. Wind from differing directions, and with differing temperatures. The wind which influenced cloud patterns, rain patterns, and sea spray. The wind which came unexpectedly and when forecasted. The wind which brought me to the pinnacle of comfort so far from home. The wind of life and living.

I have grown to love the movement of air, be it an extreme vacuum-based flow or a simple breeze through the canopy of trees. The absence of such is the epitome of discomfort and fear.

And then there are the windows and the wires.

test section 3

The optics pit

Through the windows I saw history -- the significant accomplishments of the engineering and aerospace pioneers of decades passed. I saw the images of the HFFF shadowgraph system, the prints of huge photographic and shadowgraphic negatives from the Pressurized Ballistic Range which was demolished not long ago. I gazed through those BK7 and quartz panes which upheld their optical flatness and clarity throughout years of supersonic and hypersonic abuse... Thousands of experiments gone both good and bad, often resulting in the most violent impacts and ablations conceivable. Hours spent longing to be outside, and typically unappreciative of the sacrifices and incredible breakthroughs which enabled the pinnacle of manned and unmanned spaceflight throughout history. Upon the exterior concrete walls were lists of velocity records, impacts of note, and the names of those involved. The ISS, Pioneer, original X-15 and fantastic Apollo missions were outlined in specification and image. More, even. Many more. I stared for years at the wondrous history within which I was so folded.

Those windows are the center of the testing process. Aside from impact work -- such as for the ISS shield materials -- the research is dependent upon the shadowgraphs. Older-than-dirt high voltage spark gaps provide super-fast lighting through parabolic mirrors on the walls, in the optics pit and on the ceiling, and onto the film planes in photo boxes. The 'shutter' also operates via high voltage and contains a birefringent liquid which depolarizes when hit with 30kV [Yes, the shutter system is a liquid-based medium. There is no mechanical means for exposing film as quickly. The exposure time for the typical Kerr cell is roughly 40nS -- that is 40 billionths or .00000004 seconds.] The result is a pair 8x10 negatives displaying the position of the model in two dimensions (orthogonally). This happens across sixteen photo stations along the test section which are spaced at five foot intervals.

On the outside of each North window (along the bottom) is the run' number, or LGG shot number, as recorded from the beginning of the range construction. This is written with a China marker and after the shot it appears in the negative. I believe my last work there was in the neighborhood of shot number 2390.

Fiducial and catenary wires on the outside length of the test section provide reference lines necessary for measurement of pitch and yaw angles, moment of inertia, etc. The wires stretch along the windows from end to end on the octagon. The catenary wires sag a bit on the bottom of the test section, but this does not detract from the north-south alignment and/or parallelism. The fiducial wires are another story. They are wrapped around cylindrical steel sleeves which are mounted upon a lateral rod above the side windows. This rod is as long as the test section and looks as if it has been in place since the dawn of man -- it is rusted and bent in various places along its length. Despite the condition of the mounting rod, the cylinders which hold each vertical pair of wires are unaffected with the passage of time. They hang from the mounting rod above each window and down to a set of buckets below. The fiducial wires are also attached to weights and hang in oil to maintain plumb as well as avoid the violent movements of the range during a shot.

The wires are immediately visible through the windows and provided me a feeling of uprightness while inside. I derived my position and was able to remain 'grounded' despite such odd circumstances.

I soon learned to love the vision of the wires and the windows through which I spent so much time staring. The outside world made sense because of the ever-perfect and ever-present horizontal and vertical monofilament lines. Odd, unique, and perfect, always.

test section 4

Caution, you will be inhaled

I saw others through those windows, as well. Technicians preparing for the tests, researchers setting up their equipment, and the occasional visit from someone outside our group (usually a safety engineer). From the inside, everyone looks the same -- silent, moving lips and wondrous eyes. 'That cannot be comfortable'. No, it was not. And over the years slowly became more difficult, yet somehow more rewarding. Each day and each test allowed me the time to think of anything and everything. Throughout my entire tenure occupying that sooty domain, I viewed many faces outside peering in at me. In the beginning the feeling was a bit disconcerting, as my position was that of the lowest echelon. As the years passed, however, I began to feel as if I was doing something important -- critical, even -- to the future of spaceflight and other research. I remained inside one of the most unique places in this sordid world and worked to maintain and set up test fixtures the likes of which others cannot fathom.

Describing the view from inside is nearly impossible (unless, of course, a person has ridden the submarine ride while still in operation at Disneyland), and my efforts in such a direction will very likely go unnoticed. In a similar way, the view of others looking in is equally arduous. I eventually gazed back at them with pride in my situation, position, and work. I stared out at them as if I was in a position of power of some sort. As odd as it may sound, from the inside of the monster I controlled it. To a further extent, I owned it outright. Even now, years later and sitting before the editor, I hold the lingering feeling that a part of me remains within the test section. Some part I did not know was attached, and something I had never conceived.

I am in there, somewhere, for every test.

The last several years living without that place have slowly become less tolerable and the resulting feelings of loss have multiplied like nothing else (except, perhaps... Her)."


coma c