No Two Missions Are the Same


D r. Monika Krautstrunk and Dr. Andreas Giez both work at the German Aerospace Center's ( DLR's) flight facility in Oberpfaffenhofen near Munich. Chemist Monika Krautstrunk has been head of the flight facility in Oberpfaffenhofen since 1999. Prior to that, she worked as a scientist in the DLR's Institute for Atmospheric Physics ( IPA). Andreas Giez also moved from IPA to the flight operation in 1999 to become head of the flight facilities' sensor and data group.

To learn more about the job of keeping the DLR planes in the air, Next Wave met them at the Oberpfaffenhofen hangars.

Next Wave: How large is the DLR flight operations division?

Krautstrunk: We run two facilities, one in Oberpfaffenhofen and one in Braunschweig (Brunswick). Overall, we are the largest division of this kind throughout Europe. The DLR owns a total of 11 planes and two helicopters. Additionally, we manage two planes for the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar Research (AWI). In Braunschweig, the focus is on research on the aircraft while in Oberpfaffenhofen we concentrate on research with the aircraft, using them as a platform for the fields of remote sensing, environmental, and climate research.

Next Wave: How many planes are based in Oberpfaffenhofen?

Krautstrunk: Four DLR planes and one AWI-owned Dornier 228. Our own fleet is made up of two Dornier 228, one of which is currently being operated by a European partner organisation-- NERC--in the UK, one Cessna 208B, and our flagship, a Mystère Falcon Jet.

Next Wave: How big is the workforce that keeps the facilities operating?

Giez: There are 60 people on staff in total, including everyone from mechanics to scientists, 30 each in Braunschweig and Oberpfaffenhofen.

Next Wave: What kinds of tasks are carried out by the employees?

Krautstrunk: It really differs. In Oberpfaffenhofen, we employ seven full-time pilots, seven mechanics, and three scientists, among others. Generally, the main tasks concern four different fields: operations, maintenance, flight test engineering, and sensors and data. Operations is--among other things--responsible for campaign logistics. The effort is relatively large because of our planes being deployed worldwide, and not always in easily accessible areas. That means that the flights themselves are the eventual highlight of lengthy preparations. Preparations usually start 6 to 12 months in advance.

Giez: Sometimes, it takes even longer: Our aircraft-chasing campaign, during which we were tailing passenger jets to record emissions, required several years of training and development until everything ran smoothly.

Next Wave: How many campaigns are flown each year?

Giez: Normally, about 10 to 20 per plane, but sometimes as many as 30.

Next Wave: There really seems to be a lot of work behind all this. ...

Giez: That's true. We have to take many factors into account, and those are not always scientific or flying-permit-related problems. Currently, we are preparing a campaign for 2004 which will be carried out in Brazil. One precondition for obtaining the permits is to allow a Brazilian military officer to be on board all the time. Given that we only have three passenger seats, this is a slight problem for us.

Next Wave: Obtaining permits is also one of your tasks then?

Giez: Yes, but that doesn't only concern overflight permits. It really starts getting complicated when it comes to certifications for integrating and operating new instruments. This is the main task for our flight-test engineering division. Every single additional piece of equipment could influence the airworthiness of an aeroplane. Aviation is a very highly regulated field, which makes it very bureaucratic. But fulfilling these regulations is mandatory. For example, we have to prove that an instrument has absolutely no impact on flight operations. This includes that the instrument must withstand forces of up to 9g in flight direction. Our advantage is that we are an approved aeronautical workshop, which means that we can certify modifications and instruments independently--more than 300 since 1984.

Next Wave: So you make life easier for the scientists by taking responsibility for these tasks?

Giez: Of course. Our role is to be a link between air administrators and scientists. It can happen that scientists show up with equipment they have bought or built themselves, and ask to build these into the planes and go on a mission. We have to make sure that this only happens with due consideration of all applicable rules and laws, which scientists don't usually think about at all. Another example for potential problems at the interface between science and flight regulations is the working hours limit for pilots, which may not exceed 14 hours per day. Imagine explaining this to a scientist who has just "warmed up" at the end of this period.

Next Wave: Are there special requirements concerning the pilots?

Krautstrunk: The training is of crucial importance. Normally, they have a degree in aerospace engineering, combined with a test pilot and the air transport pilot (ATPL) license, the latter being the one which commercial airline pilots also have to have. Additionally, our pilots regularly get to train in simulators.

Next Wave: Does the DLR prepare the planes for the campaigns?

Giez: Principally, we offer the planes "empty," they are just equipped with the so-called basic sensing equipment to measure data like temperature, wind speed, and pressure. In addition, we integrate the instruments the researchers need for their work. The basic sensing equipment is mostly hidden in the plane. Many of the sensors cannot be bought over the counter, by the way. Instead, we have to develop many of them ourselves. The requirements are very stringent because the sensors are exposed to extreme conditions, such as temperatures as low as -70°C. As a result, we have our own climate chamber here for simulation purposes.

Krautstrunk: Maybe the manpower needed illustrates how important this field is: One can say that for more than 25 years a staff of about 10 has worked continuously to further develop the measurement systems which are permanently installed onboard.

Next Wave: What does a researcher have to do to get in contact with you?

Krautstrunk: The research community in our field--even on a European level--is quite small, but the same is true for the fleet of research aircraft in Europe. So in the case that someone genuinely new has an interest in flying onboard our highly modified special mission aircraft, he or she usually finds us. After a few meetings it gets more precise pretty quickly. The scientist's needs can be determined very accurately after he or she has filed a flight request form, and we start planning the campaign together with the customer, once the time period for the flights has been fixed.

Next Wave: Do scientists have any idea how expensive the flights are?

Krautstrunk: Those who have been around know quite well. But in the beginning, the awareness is lower.

Next Wave: So are there really any opportunities for junior scientists to participate in this kind of research, despite the expense?

Giez: Yes. There are opportunities provided by EC funding programmes. Under the 4th and 5th Framework Programme, the EC funded a certain amount of flight hours. Scientists were able to apply for these flight hours to do their research project. The CAATER programme is an example of this. I am a facilitator in this programme, and it is really fun because many young scientists are actually involved in these projects and they are usually very enthusiastic.

Next Wave: Is it also one of your tasks to acquire new business?

Krautstrunk: Yes, but if you mean do I act as a door-to-door salesman, I should say no. Mostly, scientists are the ones who provide the impetus for a project. It is of course important to make sure the planes are booked to high capacity, but currently we cannot complain about a lack of demand. Our working days are much more dominated by writing proposals or by taking care of organisational and administrative tasks. We need to be really flexible because the actual work is often influenced by unexpected and often unforeseeable events at short notice.

Next Wave: Let's talk about the advantages of your jobs. ...

Giez: Without a doubt, the job is very attractive. The research missions take place worldwide, and no mission is like another ...

Krautstrunk: ... and we are always at the cutting-edge of the latest research.

Next Wave: Are you still involved in research activities yourselves?

Krautstrunk: I am doing management tasks exclusively, so I am not doing research anymore.

Giez: I live with the illusion of being at least partly involved in science and research, but I also spend a huge amount of my time on administrative tasks.

Next Wave: As scientists, how does one end up in flight operations?

Krautstrunk: Chance is always a factor. After I got my PhD in genetics from the Technical University of Munich, I found a project at the IPA where I was involved in airborne measurements. And after several years there, I applied for the position in flight operations.

Giez: As a physicist, I was always interested in environmental and climate research, especially in LIDAR research ( LIDAR stands for LIght Detection And Ranging - ed.). So I started looking for such projects, and I ended up at the IPA. The transition into flight operations was mainly a question of long-term prospects. My work at the IPA would have been temporary only, so I chose flight operations.

Next Wave: Did you get any training for working in science management?

Krautstrunk: Some aspects can only be learned by training on the job. But "learning by doing" is not everything. I took several training courses, i.e. in management. The DLR offers quite a good programme, especially for young professionals. But it is important to say that in general we do not work by ourselves, but rather as a team. The team may be a heterogenic one with respect to the different professions of the staff, but operations are interrelated and linked, and that, in a way, is part of our excellence.

Next Wave: What is the general outlook for atmospheric research in Germany and Europe?

Krautstrunk: Basic conditions are quite good. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research's decision to approve the proposed research plane HALO was a milestone for us.

Giez: We recently celebrated the Falcon's 25th anniversary, so we can say this is one era. HALO marks the beginning of a new era because no other comparable plane exists. In this context we also hope to be able to expand our staff here.

Next Wave: Is flying something you also enjoy outside your job or do you avoid planes because of dealing with them on a daily basis?

Giez: I do not have a pilot license myself, but I still enjoy flying.

Krautstrunk: My license will become invalid this year because I don't have enough time to fulfil the required flight hours.

Next Wave: Dr. Krautstrunk, Dr. Giez, thank you very much for your time.

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