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Re: [TowerTalk] Climbing is risky business

Subject: Re: [TowerTalk] Climbing is risky business
From: WD0M <>
Date: Sat, 31 Jan 2004 12:32:48 -0700
List-post: <>
Since we're telling tales, during the summer after my high school graduation, I worked for the California Institute of Technology's Owens Valley Radio Observatory. One of my duties was to attend to the MASER (Magnetic Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) receivers located at the focal point of the huge dish antennas. I checked the liquid helium levels that cooled the ruby that was held in a dewar (thermos bottle) that made it all work.

One bright, sunny, and hot day (working with liquid helium was a great way to cool off), I pointed the 130 foot dish straight up to the sky, locked everything in place so it wouldn't be moved, and then climbed to the top of the dish's focal point, which by this time was WAY up in the air (about 150 feet) - I didn't have any problems with the height, and the platform at the top was a fairly decent size (about 1 meter square), so (being young and foolish), I was up there working on the receiver - without any safety device to hold me in place. Hey, as I said, I was young and foolish (some would say stupid, and I would categorize it that way today, looking back).

After beginning work on the MASERs, I let my attention wander, enjoying the view of the Sierras and White Mountain ranges. About that time, a USAF F-4 Phantom came whistling by the installation, right between the dish I was on and one next to it, and WAY below FAA minimums. He must have been en route back to Edwards AFB, which (at the speed he was going) was only a few minutes away. He must have been going close to mach 1 - there was no hint that he was coming, but LOTS of noise, JP4 smell, and a huge blast of wind as he was going away. I was sure I felt the dish sway from the shock wave, and my heart almost popped out of my chest.

That inspired me to do two things - 1) never work without a safety harness when on an elevated and dangerous location (like a tower), and, 2) join the Air Force. Having spent 26 years on active duty and retiring as a colonel, I never managed to track down who the pilot was on the F-4, but had I done so, I would have been tempted to smack him one, and then thank him for underscoring the dangers associated with tempting gravity (and fate) from high places.

Colonel, USAF (Ret)


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