John & Anne Wiley

2011/01/21

Launch Window

Filed under: Flying,Happiness,Has Photos,Random,SB Region — John @ 02:43

Tripp’s routine oil change yesterday took longer than planned due to some minor extra fixes, so she was still in the shop this afternoon when we’d planned to fly her out to Lompoc so we could watch the Vandenberg AFB launch of a massive Delta IV rocket. We’ve been excited about seeing it from the air, and wondered if we’d be able to hear it from outside the 5 mile aircraft exclusion zone around the launch site. Turned out we were several times that far due to our late takeoff, but watching it from over Gaviota Pass was still fun (we didn’t hear it). Because it’s a liquid-fueled rocket, there’s no smoke – just water. Still I was surprised that it left no visible trail until reaching perhaps ten thousand feet, and then only for part of the time we could see it burning. When I spotted the launch plume, I opened the window and started snapping. It took a minute to notice the trail-less rocket already high above the hills.

4884 Delta IV Launch

4884 Delta IV Launch

I wondered how close my Dad might have been to the launches he saw there while working as a construction contractor on the base some decades ago. It was fun to hear a little chatter about it on the “departure” frequency we were tuned to. I wonder how many planes were circling above Lompoc as we’d planned to do. We’d also thought about flying closer to Point Conception, but I’m glad we didn’t because the rocket went straight up rather than tilting toward the South nearer to the Point. Even with the camera set to 1/800 second shutter, there was some motion blur on the maximum zoom. Not a big deal though, since the shot was also made fuzzy by the light haze at such a distance.

4887 Rocket Flame

4887 Rocket Flame

Even so, we could make out the flame perhaps twice the length of the rocket as it passed through the vapor trail altitude. If there’s another big launch, we might try again for Lompoc. Glad we flew today though, because even from so far it was a lot of fun to watch.

4895 Tilting South

4895 Tilting South

By the time we stopped for fuel at Santa Ynez, all that remained of the launch was a squiggly cloud.

4903 Rocket Trail Cloud

4903 Rocket Trail Cloud

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