Monday, November 28, 2005


A couple of months ago, I posted a description of the Civil Air Patrol's new ARCHER (Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance) system that is being deployed to support homeland security, search and rescue, and disaster relief missions. For those that don't want to re-read that post, basically this is the equivalent of Star Trek's planetary scanners. You can do minerology, crop assessments, search for specific objects on the planetary surface, and lots of things that used to only be envisioned by science fiction. I commented that as science fiction writers, any time we can get real-world experience like this, we can improve the sensation of "being there" in our stories. After all, how many writers for Star Trek actually got to run Mr. Spock's sensor scans for real? I took the screening exam and applied to program, more or less on a lark.

It seems I've been given the nod.

I got a call today from the director of the program (he's in Colorado Springs, CO), asking if I'd be interested in attending the four-day intensive training program. He said that they were being very selective, so he was personally interviewing all the candidates (apparently nearly 25% of the first --and only, I believe -- class of ARCHER trainees flunked out, costing CAP $5,000 each), but that my background -- between the Navy and my work with hyperspectral imaging with the Mars program -- made me a perfect candidate. So, in two weeks, CAP is flying me to Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama for the training. I am the only person in the state of Arizona who will be trained, and there will only be twelve students in this class. Coincidentally, I had a CAP squadron meeting tonight, which -- also coincidentally -- the group commander (the group is the next level of command above the squadron level) was attending. I mentioned that I had been selected for the training, and the group commander was quite impressed (apparently he flunked the screening exam). He said that the wing commander would really like me to do this training, since if the Arizona Wing has a certified ARCHER operator, we have a chance of getting one of the new high-tech ARCHER aircraft permanently stationed here. And since I'd be the only person trained to fly it, it would essentially be my aircraft, which I think is pretty cool...

The first two days of training is ground school on the theory of hyperspectral imaging. Since I'm one of maybe three dozen people in the country who actually did this for a living, I'm not too concerned with it. On the third day, though, we are actually going out to the hanger and will uninstall and install the system in the aircraft. This is no small thing, and I believe requires us to get an FAA certification for this maintenance. We will be trained to fix the thing, not just operate it, so that's going to be way cool. The fourth day we will be in the air running the system, and will be given the final exam that we have to pass to get certified. All in all, it's going to be an intense period, but I'm actually looking forward to it (though I'm not looking forward to being away from my family for that long).

I think this will be a huge boost in real-world experiences that I can use to power my writing. I'm definitely going to have to work in a story that uses this type of system, I can already see...

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