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John Fink, a guidance counselor and former biology teacher from Austin E. Lathrop High School in Fairbanks, Alaska, was selected to be the first NOAA Teacher in the Sky, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) program that gives educators an opportunity to get hands-on research experience aboard a NOAA aircraft. NOAA is an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Fink flew aboard NOAA’s Gulfstream-IV hurricane surveillance jet on Feb. 14 as the jet conducted severe winter storms research along the jetstream over the Pacific Ocean.
The program is an extension of NOAA’s 13-year-old Teacher at Sea program, where teachers go aboard NOAA oceanographic, fisheries, and hydrographic survey ships to work side-by-side with NOAA scientists. Fink was a NOAA Teacher at Sea in 1993 aboard NOAA ship Miller Freeman, when he was an advanced placement biology teacher at Austin E. Lathrop High School. Because of this past experience, NOAA contacted him and offered him the opportunity to fly aboard the NOAA G-IV.
“I was thrilled at the opportunity to fly with the G-IV crew and help promote NOAA to high school students,” Fink said. “Through each NOAA experience, I’ve gained an appreciation and enthusiasm for careers in science, which I transmit to students who show interest or aptitude in that area. Participating in these NOAA programs has enabled me to experience applied science in a real-world application, and share it with students back home.”
The jet is based in Anchorage through Feb. 27, when it will return to a temporary base in Honolulu to continue the project through March 15. Its mission is to gather data over the Pacific Ocean, where severe winter storms originate that seriously affect the continental United States and Alaska. The primary purpose of the research is to improve local weather forecasts released 24-96 hours before a storm.
“The NOAA Teacher at Sea program has provided teachers a wonderful opportunity to improve their research skills by working closely with NOAA scientists,” said Rear Admiral Nicholas A. Prahl, deputy director of the NOAA Corps and NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations. NOAA Corps officers serve as ship captains and aircraft commanders. “We want to build on this success by also making teachers a part of the scientific teams aboard NOAA research aircraft that collect much of the data NOAA needs to carry out its mission.”
“Teachers who have participated in the Teacher at Sea program are enthusiastic about NOAA science, and pass their interest and knowledge on to their students. We are contacting our ‘alumni’ who live in areas where we have aircraft working to see if they’d like to gain new experience. We are delighted that John Fink was able to take us up on the offer,” said Jennifer Hammond, NOAA Teacher at Sea program manager. “Once we see how well the program works, we’ll develop an application process and qualifications criteria for teachers new to the NOAA education programs.”
Although Fink is the first teacher to fly under the pilot program, NOAA did sponsor two “Teachers in the Field” last year. Part of the work they did involved flying aboard a NOAA WP-3D Orion “hurricane hunter” aircraft during a project in Brazil. The success of that project contributed to the impetus for the new pilot program.
Teachers who wish to fly with NOAA but who are not former NOAA Teachers at Sea must go through the Teacher at Sea application process.
NOAA’s G-IV jet, used primarily for hurricane surveillance, is based at NOAA’s Aircraft Operations Center (AOC) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. AOC is part of NOAA Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes civilians as well as officers of the NOAA Corps, the smallest of the nation’s seven uniformed services. NOAA Corps pilots and civilian meteorologists, flight and electronics engineers, and technicians are highly trained to operate in adverse weather conditions.
The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
On the Web:
NOAA Aircraft Operations Center: http://www.aoc.noaa.gov
Teacher at Sea: