By Shalini Singh, Administrative Officer at RCUK India
I boarded the plane on 26th June knowing that the highpoint of my trip to the UK would be to view Great Britain from greater heights; bigger and better than the London Eye could offer. It was a chance to venture out aboard the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) Research Aircraft. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed to see an aircraft of this type, up close and personal for the first time. I was accompanying four Indian scientists, two colleagues from NERC and colleagues from the Facility for Airborne Atmospheric Measurements (FAAM).
This visit by the Indian delegation was in follow-up to the UK-India Monsoon workshop held in February 2013, where India expressed an interest to see the UK Research Aircraft and the Data Management Centres. The focus was primarily on acquainting the Indian scientists with the practices of climate monitoring and data management developed and pursued by the UK scientists. Four scientists were shortlisted by India’s Ministry of Earth Sciences (MoES) to visit the UK facilities. I, along with our office Director, Dr Nafees Meah, lead on NERC projects and assignments, so I had the opportunity to accompany the Indian delegates to the UK for this week-long visit. The aim of this meeting was to share best practice among the UK-Indian participants and have discussions that would assist in shaping and sustaining present and future collaborations.
The second and third days were spent at FAAM, and we were warmly welcomed by the Head of FAAM Guy Gratton and his team. FAAM is collaboration between the Met Office and NERC, managed through the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS). After a morning of presentations, we were taken to see the the aircraft. It was a real deal, seeing the colossus aircraft, glimpses of which I had only previously seen in pictures. It was fascinating and a great learning experience for me.
We had our flight planning and briefing before the actual take-off. Soon after a round of customary photos, outside and inside the plane, we flew from Cranfield at around 12.30pm with all the Star Trek kind of scientific equipment on board. The enthralling bit was when they let out the cloud probes for readings. It was a two-and-a-half hour flight and the plane was brought down to 1,000 ft above the English Channel, which was simply breath-taking. Then there was a chance to take that extraordinary view out of the cockpit and catch up with the pilots.
Two days were then devoted to NERC’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) in Wallingford and the British Atmospheric Data Centre (BADC) in Didcot. CEH organised a visit to the Maharaja’s Well for us after the meetings. The Indian scientists found the visit to the data centres very useful and said they were impressed by how the UK data is managed. The most thrilling part of that day was the video wall (formed by 28 panels arranged in a 7 x 4 matrix) at the Visualisation Facilities.