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« Yes, Virginia, There Was A Rave | Main | Preparations »

Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited

During the day in the Mojave desert, the sun beats down on the ancient rock and sand through cloudless skies. Its rays are reflected back upward, and it heats the dry air. Following the inexorable law of Boyle, with no volume to contain it, it expands, and as it does, it has to go somewhere.

What this eventually means, as the late morning and afternoon progress, is wind. And not just high wind, but dynamic, changing, don't-know-from-what-direction-it-will-come-from-one-minute-to-the-next wind, grabbing-a-seemingly-tranquil-hangar-door-right-out-of-your-hands wind. The natives know this, and expect it. In fact, overlooking the town of Mojave, along the road leading up to Tehachapi, is a wind farm, a crop of subsidized windmills. In fact, some wag last night suggested that this wasn't a natural wind--Burt, a natural showman, had simply decided to pay for the electricity to run them in reverse to build up the suspense for the next morning's flight.

When we arrived last night, it was gusting at (my estimate) thirty to forty knots. In XCOR's hangar, you could hear the groans of the old metal walls straining against it. The rave last night was sandblasted by it--I could taste and feel the grit in the watermelon slices left to its untender mercies. Many, with no experience with Mojave, had two questions: could the flight occur in conditions like this? And if so, would the conditions be like this in the morning?

The answer to the first is almost certainly no. A steady wind can be managed, if one can take off into it, but no prudent pilot would attempt a takeoff or landing with high and unpredictable potential crosswinds, which could suddenly flip over a twenty-million-dollar one-of-a-kind investment, just before it was about to bear fruit.

Fortunately, the answer to the second question is also probably no.

When I got up this morning, the desert had cooled and the atmosphere had calmed, and the notorious Mojave gales had settled down to a gentle breeze, as they almost always do. It looks like it will be a gorgeous morning for history.

Posted by Rand Simberg at June 21, 2004 05:22 AM
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I used to live in that area and will return soon if the National Guard doesn't spoil my plans and send me to a different place. Yes, strong winds do develop in the afternoon but the air is pretty calm in the morning. Also, the winds generally come from one direction so it's usually not that big of an issue for the larger, heavier military aircraft that are constantly being flown and tested at nearby Edwards AFB. Visibility is great and the ceiling is usually unlimited most of the time.

It's not a bad area to live in once you get used to the heat and the strong sun. Sure, it's not as nice as San Diego or West Plam Beach but if you like flying machines it's a great place to be.

Posted by Michael Colangelo at June 21, 2004 12:06 PM

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