Random Profile: Allen Schanot
Every other month, Staff Notes Monthly spotlights a stochastically chosen staff member. This month we profile Allen Schanot, a project manager with the Research Aviation Facility of NCARs Atmospheric Technology Division.
From the private to the public sector: Allen has been fascinated by weather for as long as he can remember. I got into meteorology because Id get out of bed during thunderstorms as a child and run out to the window. After earning a masters degree in atmospheric science from Colorado State University in 1977, Allen landed a job with North American Weather Consultants in Utah, a company that focuses on air quality monitoring and weather modification. He worked on such projects as tracer studies for proposed power plantsthat is, simulating pollutant emissions and evaluating dispersion patterns to find out whether emissions from a proposed new power plant might adversely affect the local environment. In 1984, he applied for a job at the Research Aviation Facility as a project manager, and he has been with RAF ever since. It was a pretty natural transition from the private sector.
Hes not a pilot, but he gets around: As project manager, Allen has traveled around the globe to oversee RAF flight operations for some of the largest international atmospheric field projects of the past two decades, including the 1995 ACE-1 (Aerosol Characterization Experiment) and 1999 MAP (Mesoscale Alpine Project). He serves as the liaison between scientists (most of whom are from other institutions, and some of whom are from other countries) and the RAF technical support staff to make sure that equipment is installed and operating to capture the correct scientific data. Its our job to take the equipment into the field and ensure that the scientists get a data set that addresses their questions, he explains. Although hes not a pilot, Allen also reviews flight plans and other field deployment logistics during an experiment. He also checks the data sets daily to make sure there are no inconsistencies. Were the experts on the RAF instrumentation packages. We do quality assurance, and were the primary judges of whether the instruments are working in the field.
Be careful out there: To collect data on the atmosphere, an aircraft must be in top working condition because it may be called upon to cruise as low as 150 feet or into thunderstorms or other types of violent weather. We do all sorts of things that obviously dont happen in general aviation, Allen explains. The research equipment also can pose risks if its not installed correctly. For example, scientists measuring ozone sometimes rely on concentrated nitric oxide, which is poisonous. We ensure that the system is completely sealed and the source volume cylinder is completely contained. In the event there was some accident and a rapid release of the gas, we must be able to vent it overboard.
On the cutting edge: Allen gets to work with different scientists on virtually every project, helping them uncover new information about the atmosphere. We see the cutting edge of science. We do everythingclimate studies, aerosol studies, chemical studies, cloud physics, wind studies, severe weather, wind jets, and so on, he says. Every projects different. Even if you were doing two thunderstorm projects, there would be different aspects to them, and typically wed be working with different scientists. He also gets to fly to distant locations, such as Japan, the Maldives, and Australia. Its not a burden. I enjoy seeing new places.
The changes hes seen: When Allen started at NCAR, the institution had several smaller aircrafttwo Queen Airs, a King Air, a Saberliner, and the Electra. Those aircraft have all since been retired, and RAF now relies on larger aircraft, including the C-130 that NCAR operates for NSF. Another change: the experiments have gotten much bigger and more expensive over the years. In the mid-1980s, a typical project might cost about $200,000; now you cant do anything on the C-130 thats less than half a million.
The larger experiments require more scientists and more technical support. When we were taking the small aircraft out, there might be one or two PIs, and they might write a couple of papers on the data they were collecting. On a recent ACE project, there might be 15 PIs [principal investigators] writing 30 papers. Before, youd sometimes have one or two pilots, a couple of technicians, a mechanic, and myself. Now youre taking out 10 to 13 peopletwo pilots, a flight engineer, a couple of ground mechanics, technicians, and instrumentation specialists. In the early days, researchers focused more on cloud physics, looking at the structure of ice and rain. Increasingly, the missions now focus on chemical species and aerosol studies, as scientists piece together the subtle interactions that drive atmospheric events.
Not everything is different, however. We go out for a month to six weeks at a time. That hasnt changed.
Witnessing the natural world: Allen has enjoyed a front-row seat during many experiments, catching rare views of Earth and sky. The atmosphere is just wonderful visually. Flying by a thunderstorm, you can see this huge anvil. You can be flying along at some 20,000 feet, and theres as much above you as below youthese are 50,000-foot thunderstorms, just classic storms. He also loves flying at 150 feet, watching land or ocean racing by just under the aircrafts wings. When youre flying at 35,000 feet across the country, it all looks artificial. But when youre flying around like we do, its more real in terms of how near we come to things. Its not just someone elses experience. Its your experience.
Free time: Allens favorite activities include playing golf and tennis and spending time with his three grandchildren. He also likes to travel. His wife, Carolyn, hopes to retire in a couple of years and rendezvous with Allen when his work takes him to distant locations. But, as he points out: We tend to work in places at the wrong time for tourists. We go to Maine in the winter; we go to Mexico in the summer.
Best story to share with his grandchildren: Allen recalls going to a small zoo in Tasmania during a project in Australia: There are very strict rules about not touching the animals, but they allow you in the pens with them, and the animals can come to you. Im standing there near a koala thats up in a tree. He comes over and starts climbing on me. I had this koala sitting in my arm like a little kid. Theyre pretty solid. It was such a unique experience.