AOPA’s second Fly-In of 2017 is shaping up to be one you won’t want to miss. The September 8 and 9 AOPA Fly-In at Norman will take place at University of Oklahoma Westheimer Airport, home to the school’s aviation program that has been training aviators and other aviation professionals since 1947. Norman also is home to the National Weather Center, a collaboration between the university, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other entities working to better understand the Earth’s atmosphere.
In their newly expanded two-day format, this year’s AOPA Fly-Ins feature in-depth learning opportunities that could not be offered at one-day events. Optional Friday workshops at Norman include Understanding Aviation Weather, led by OU faculty and NOAA meteorologists and conducted at the National Weather Center; an IFR refresher, designed to send rusty instrument pilots on their way back to proficiency; Pilot Plus One, focused on incorporating nonpilots in your aviation adventures; and owner-guided maintenance, teaching aircraft owners how to better manage maintenance of their aircraft. The workshops run from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on September 8; cost is $105 for AOPA members, $155 for nonmembers, and $75 for spouses.
Also on Friday, AOPA has teamed with the Cessna Pilots Society to offer a fly-out to Independence, Kansas, for a tour of the Textron Aviation factory where Cessna piston aircraft are manufactured. Registration is required for the workshops and the fly-out; see the website for more details.
No registration is required, however, to watch AOPA’s first short takeoff and landing (STOL) demonstration. The Texas STOL Roundup Team will present a free seminar on Saturday morning, covering important aspects of STOL and backcountry flying techniques, and then demonstrate the concepts. The Texas STOL Roundup, September 29 through October 1 in Hondo, Texas, features an obstacle STOL competition using inflatable pylons to represent that 50-foot obstacle frequently referenced in pilot's operating handbooks.
The exhibit hall opens at 4 p.m. Friday, and the always popular Barnstormers Party begins at 6 p.m. Camping with your aircraft is allowed and encouraged. Saturday activities include free seminars, dozens of exhibits and display aircraft, and a Pilot Town Hall with AOPA President Mark Baker. See the details online.
The National Weather Center (NWC) in Norman, Oklahoma, is a partnership between the University of Oklahoma, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and others to further understanding of the Earth’s atmosphere. In addition to OU’s School of Meteorology and College of Atmospheric and Geographic Sciences, it’s home to NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, forecasting hazardous weather around the clock; the National Severe Storms Laboratory, working to improve forecasts and warnings of severe weather; the Nexrad Radar Operations Center; and the National Weather Service’s Norman forecast office, one of 122 such regional facilities across the country.
In May, the NWC was testing GOES-R, the next-generation geostationary weather satellite, which could go live by September. It updates every minute, versus 15-minute updates for the current GOES East and West satellites. “Right now we’re seeing things experimentally that we’ve never seen before from satellites,” said Patrick Hyland, NWS coordinator of external relations.
More than 500 people work in the NWC’s 244,000 square feet. That doesn’t include OU’s Radar Innovations Laboratory next door, where new radar technologies are designed and fabricated.
Aviators would be fascinated by the Storm Prediction Center, source of all tornado and severe thunderstorm watches in the continental United States. Mesoscale forecasters focus on dangerous weather up to six hours in the future, covering about half a state. Outlook forecasters prepare such products as the convective outlook. Everything gets funneled through the lead forecaster’s desk; he also prepares the Day 1 Convective Outlook, explained Joey Picca, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
Some offices are testing terminal forecasts from grids, instead of discrete locations, he noted. “So if you’re a helicopter landing at a hospital, there’s a TAF for you.”
Nearby, Aaron Gleason is working the mesoscale desk, tweaking the Enhanced Thunder Product popular with meteorologists. He’s looking closely at fronts and surface pressure patterns. “Where are the features that are going to trigger thunderstorms?” he asks. “I’m looking for upper-level troughs, fronts at the surface—lift sources.”
Picca has been looking into the capabilities of dual-polarization weather radar. “It helps us better identify where the updrafts are. They also tend to be very turbulent areas.” New updrafts pinpoint future storm development, Picca added.
The NWC sees 35,000 visitors each year. Public tours are offered at 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday; larger group tours are at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Tuesday and Thursdays; and the public can visit the first floor, including the Flying Cow Café—beside Dorothy, the prop from the 1996 movie Twister—during business hours.