Torture Chamber

Because airplanes must fly in the real world, the Air Force built a fake one.

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At the other end of the temperature spectrum, heat poses a problem for avionics systems, especially those based on cathode-ray-tube displays, which generate lots of heat, compared to conventional gauges, which don’t. An avionics meltdown, when it happens, prompts the company in question to beef up its “environmental control systems” (air conditioning).

After five days in the deep freeze, the Raytheon Hawker Horizon was covered by a light layer of frost. This was not another sign of lab-induced weather trauma but rather the result of technicians (most of them clad in parkas) repeatedly entering and exiting the hangar, letting in minute amounts of Florida humidity.

During a previous cold test at McKinley, the Hawk had been raised up on jacks so that its gear could be cycled, something that was done without difficulty. On this occasion, with an FAA representative in attendance to verify the results, the flight crew performed a series of low-temperature starts of the auxiliary power unit’s battery, tested oxygen mask operation and the crew alerting system, monitored normal and emergency exit door forces, and so on. All challenges were met successfully. You might say that the whole thing was anticlimactic.

“There’s lots of experience to draw upon,” says Velasco, “and so the newer stuff is a lot better than it used to be in the old, old days.”

When the Hawker Horizon is finally certified and takes to the skies, passengers, crew, and the general public can take comfort in the fact that it passed without a hitch through Kirk Velasco’s little shop of weather horrors.

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