Wind flames out Northern Thunder 2022

The Thunderbirds parked and grounded at KRDR, 18 Jun 2022 (Fargo Orbit)

It just doesn’t happen every year. It was called off two years ago, and it didn’t quite take flight this year, either. The Grand Forks AFB Air Show, this time simply called “Northern Thunder”, couldn’t get away from Grand Forks’ defining feature: the wind.

Not only was it gusting to almost 20 m/s, it was coming from the wrong direction for takeoffs and landings. Even if the base had extra runways, they  would never be built facing into the rather unusual direction.

Not everything at an air show is airborne, of course: Though a few announced planes didn’t quite make it to the tiedowns, this was more than offset by the surprise visit of a CC-130J Super Hercules, which drew a huge crowd despite being placed just about the farthest from the food and port-a-potties.

Not past local noon, the wind shot up violently, sending aircrew scrambling to check their lines and chalks, while visitors with loose items soon found themselves deprived. As nothing had taken to the skies, the event program turned to the occasional pull of the Shockwave, essentially a semi-truck with an afterburning jet engine stuck on the back.  Loud and flashy, it kept spirits up during the lengthening wait for the return of the United States Air Force Thunderbirds to the Grand Forks skies.

By 1800 UT, there was a thick black cloud clinging to the ground around the airfield. This dirty air should have been hot and acrid with jet wash, but was instead a hazy, gritty Minnesota soil sample, carried on the raging southeast gale that turned hats and corn chip bags alike into wrathful FOD. It was time to visit the food trucks.

Food and Vendors at Northern Thunder, 18 June 2022. (Fargo Orbit)

Vendors from all over the region were onsite; among the more impressive drives, Cookies For You brought baked cookies and frozen cake pops from Minot. Magic Bean, also from Minot, brought its black van and baristas, and Fargo’s Mi Barrio Dominican Cuisine brought a unique flavour.

Overall, it was a great event for young learners, a chance to grab squeeze toys, pop can coozies, and air-themed stickers and mission patches, or to hang out of the door of a refuelling tanker, sit in the hotseat of a fighter jet, or spin around the turret of an air defence system.

2LT Shields of the North Dakota National Guard demonstrates an FIM-92 Stinger MANPADS at Grand Forks Air Force Base, 18 June 2022 (Fargo Orbit)

For older or wiser folks, there were a few tables from institutions doing fundraisers or fly-ins, or perhaps the beer garden for those not in a rush to drive back. Stick around and you might learn something about these metal beasts, the people who flew them and knew them, or even hear an RCAF corporal waxing on about the merits of Lobster Poutine.

As the haze only grew by 1900 UT, any would-be pilots had no choice but to save their kerosene for some other time. The show previously known as “Thunder Over the Red River” will still be looking for its first aerial event since 22 May 2010. And since the one before that was in 2006, there’ll be a fair while to wait again.

Coronavirus information

FiveThirtyEight has published an excellent summary of what every person needs to know about COVID-19, which is updated frequently.

Vaccines are widely available in the US and Canada for walk-in service at medical providers and pharmacies. Many areas are still operating dedicated immunization clinics. Vaccines are safe and effective, including against the omicron variant of concern. Vaccines are now available for all age groups.

As of June 2022, travel restrictions have largely ended for travellers with up-to-date vaccinations. Be ready to show proof of vaccination when crossing national borders. Canada also requires use of the ArriveCAN app or website.

Continue reading “Coronavirus information”

How to build science literacy and respect

Jenny Dauer of the University of Nebraska and Noah Feinstein of the University of Wisconsin participated in a discussion of how to boost science literacy and engagement at the AAAS virtual conference on 20 February 2022.

Noah Feinstein engages on rebuilding public respect for science at AAAS, 20 Feb 2022. (AAAS)

Rather than repeat common platitudes like “trust science”, Feinstein goes much further, first establishing confidence in why he is qualified to speak on the topic of science literacy, and then covering many of the ways science institution have been actively undermined among the general public.

Feinstein’s talk clearly addresses the weaknesses that science both has, and appears to have, and asks the public not necessarily to blindly trust, but to show “appropriate respect” for the knowledge generated by science, and to forgive some of the imperfections in scientific institutions, traits shared by all human endeavours.

Jenny Dauer shows how to teach science literacy at the AAAS conference, 20 Feb 2022. (AAAS)

Dauer covers how to educate college students to approach scientific decisionmaking, even in highly controversial environments. The University of Nebraska offers a course called Science Literacy 101, where students Students thereby receive valuable tools to incorporate systems analysis and science literacy into their future leadership.

Dauer also delves into the complexity of teaching students with certain ideas or positions that are ensconced in their personal identities, and discusses some approaches to better engage them to improve their receptiveness to new science that conflicts with their worldviews.

The two talks were part of a three-talk session presented at the AAAS conference, “Learning about Science Literacy from the Covid-19 Pandemic”, which moderated by Felicia Kessing of Bard College. The third talk in the session, on science engagement with disaffected communities, was given by Raj Pandya of the American Geophysical Union.

Minnesota’s Menon selected for NASA Astronaut Corps

Anil Menon. Photo: Robert Markowitz, NASA

Dr. Anil Menon, M.D. of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has already had a distinguished career in the Air Force, including service as ground Flight Surgeon for the SpaceX Demo-2 mission. Now, he can add Astronaut Candidate to the list.

Among the other announced candidates this year, Dr. Andre Douglas, Ph. D. is also no stranger to the Midwest: In 2012, while serving in the US Coast Guard, he graduated from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor with a master’s degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

The role of astronaut has changed considerably since the heroic era of the 1960s, when the peak crop of the nation’s test pilot schools were raided for jack-of-all-trades. Though still versatile and trained for everything, in orbit, a particular astronaut will have Command, Pilot, or Mission Specialist duties. Some astronauts never fly into space, but that doesn’t mean they don’t work. The NASA Astronaut Corps, based at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, is a vast talent pool frequently tapped to play important roles as program managers and consultants for NASA and other important engineering efforts. All receive basic pilot training and frequently get loggable hours in a variety of aircraft.

NASA’s selection of just 10 astronauts shows the constraints on the position. With Crew Dragon fully operational, and other options like Starship and Starliner close to coming online, NASA’s agenda is now limited more by budget than rocket hardware for possibly the first time since Skylab.

With the continued bustle of activity in the private space sector, Menon’s participation in SpaceX flights is a reminder that the day may quickly come when NASA can select an astronaut candidate who has already flown to space.

Fly-ND Summerfest to land in Washburn 19 Aug 2021

Summerfest 2021 (Fly-ND.com)

The 2021 North Dakota Aviation Association Summerfest will be an in-person event this year.

The one-day event will take place at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center in Washburn 19 August 2021 from 0930 to 2030 CT, with an optional golf game at Painted Woods.

Ticket prices vary by activity choices:

  • $25 for lunch and talks;
  • $50 for talks and dinner;
  • $150 for lunch, talks, golf, and dinner.

Friends and Family of Washburn pilot and North Dakota Aviation Hall of Fame member Bill Beeks are especially encouraged to attend.

Fly-ins may land at Washburn Airport (5C8 – AirNav, SkyVector)

Morning lunar eclipse

The Total Lunar Eclipse of 26 May 2021; lighter areas saw more of the eclipse. (NASA GSFC)

A lunar eclipse greeted early risers on 26 May 2021. Earth’s shadow totally covered the moon for a few minutes at about 1119 UT. This was about the time the moon was setting over North America, and was after sunrise in the far north of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Goddard Spaceflight Center’s eclipse page is always an excellent resource to plan future eclipse viewing.

Should that be growing there?

Montana Tech’s Robert Pál joined Huixuan Liao of Sun Yat-sen University and Manzoor Shah of the University of Kashmir on 9 February for a panel discussion on alpine botany, during the 2021 AAAS Annual Meeting.

Alpine environments are particularly fertile ground for climate change ecology because broad variation in microclimates can be found over a relatively short distance. As temperatures warm, new types of plants may rise above their former range. As moisture patterns change, areas may become better or worse for the growth of certain species. And lurking everywhere is the persistent threat of new and invasive species: non-native plants that spread and grow in manners that negatively impact the local environment, which may be hard to control once they take root.

Due to COVID-19, science conferences have gone fully remote for 2021. (Speakers/AAAS)

The distinction between a fast-spreading non-invasive plant and an invasive species can be hard to pinpoint, but it often depends on whether it monopolizes an area at the expense of the broader ecosystem. Spotting them in the field can require a keen eye; certain invasive grasses can be notoriously hard to identify, even for experts.

When asked about ways invasive plants can be a solution, rather than a pest, Pál cited some concepts in harvesting invasive species as food, or to tap heavy metals out of toxic soils. Liao mentioned that some fast-growing plants can be used to combat coastal erosion.

When it came to encouraging new scientists, Shah said anyone can feel the excitement of a discovery on an ordinary walk, just by looking around their home turf for plants that look new or out of place, and taking samples to send in to the experts. Pál suggests that students looking to get into the field would benefit from learning the kinds of plants that help and harm their local environment, and further study in botany and ecology.

A selection of other work by Dr. Robert Pál can be found at the Montana Tech digital commons. Among others, the USDA and CFIA have further information so anyone can help slow the spread of invasive plants.

US flights to Winnipeg halted; New quarantine rules in Calgary

At 0230Z 03 Feb 2021, SkyWest 4472 landed in Winnipeg, closing the book on international flights to YWG during the pandemic. Later in the day on 03 February, new restrictions by the government of Canada took effect in order to limit the spread of more contagious variants of COVID-19.

SKW4472 on 03 Feb 2021. (FlightAware/OSM/Fargo Orbit)

The move echoes Canada’s measures earlier in the pandemic that limited most overseas passengers to landing in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal. US flights, though not originally limited in the same way, were still rapidly dropped as US carriers reduced service. With the new measures in force, US flights cannot return to Regina or Saskatoon for the forseeable future.

Alberta’s measures to contain the virus now include up to 24 days of quarantine, with 14 days of quarantine for everyone in the household, following 10 days of home isolation for any confirmed positive case. Measures are even stricter at Calgary Airport, with all arriving passengers getting an additional COVID test, a police escort to a quarantine hotel for at least 3 days of isolation, a $2000 fee, and only then, if released, entering into a 14+ day home quarantine.

Michigan factory sends out first COVID vaccines

Pfizer’s plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan shipped operational doses of a COVID-19 vaccine across the United States on 13 December 2020. UPS and FedEx are carrying the shipments across the United States. Healthcare workers will be among the first to receive the doses.

This follows the FDA’s emergency use approval for the vaccine on the 12th, shortly following Health Canada’s approval on the 9th. The earliest shipments will provide enough doses to vaccinate 124,500 Canadians and 1.5 million Americans. In this phase, health care workers receiving the vaccine will be receiving it nearly immediately. Though procedures will vary, for the moment states and provinces will receive doses, then send out smaller shipments to health facilities. Those facilities have already pre-designated their most at-risk individuals to get the shot as soon as possible, and one additional follow-up dose a few weeks later.

Though the Pfizer vaccine must be shipped and warehoused at -70 C, the temperature of dry ice or specialized medical or scientific ultracold freezers, it has sufficient stability at standard temperatures to still allow for robust distribution options. These issues will not be a problem in the earliest stages of vaccine distribution. As this and other vaccines become more widely available, they will be offered to additional people based on local distribution plans. It will be at this stage that the Pfizer vaccine’s shelf life of a few days at standard -20 C and 4 C refrigeration temperatures is put to a real-world test.

Though work continues on other vaccines, the moment 18-wheelers and airplanes departed West Michigan represents a climactic moment in a banner year for biotechnology, as well as a triumph for science and industry in the Midwest.

Iowa State hosts Women in STEM event series with regional universities

Iowa State is leading a Women in STEM program called “Joining Forces”, alongside North Dakota State, Michigan Tech, and Western Michigan U, funded by the National Science Foundation ADVANCE program.

In addition to mentorship and professional development, there is a 2020 scheduled event series. The first event, on 1 Oct 2020 at 6pm Central Time, is an online groupwatch and discussion on the documentary film Picture a Scientist (film trailer).

To participate, contact the ADVANCE Midwest Partnership at Iowa State University.