HALLEY'S COMET JET FLIGHTS
The year 1985 saw the highs and lows of my teaching career. In June, I was selected to represent Washington State in the NASA Teacher in Space Project and was flown back to Washington, DC, for selection. The national conference was held in June 1985. I went into that process believing I had all the “Right Stuff.” I was a science teacher, innovative, an active military aviator flying in an Army Reserve group, and a combat veteran; I was a professional photographer and writer. What more could they ask for? Of course, many of the Finalists thought the same thing. It was a very prestigious group, the best teachers from every State in the Union. It seemed like the world's end when I learned I had not been selected.
That summer was spent with family and friends, avoiding the still-interested media. By Fall, I was back in the creative project mode and began working with Robbie Martin, my close friend, and partner in our company, Pacific Marine Research. We took kids out for day-long oceanographic trips on Puget Sound. It was a hands-on adventure including water sampling, geology lessons on the formation of Puget Sound, and the highlight of the day, interacting with our diver via a live video feed from an underwater camera (See Project Undersea Uplink section)
On a Saturday in November of 1985, the idea to do Project Undersea Uplink came. But how were we going to pay for it? At about the same time, I was keenly interested in seeing the 76-year return of Sir Edmond Halley’s famous comet. It didn’t take long to realize that Seattle’s famous bad winter weather would block any possible view of the comet. We were too far north to put the comet above our horizon. I even calculated how high I’d be in a Chinook helicopter over Seattle to see it. That ended up being well over 40,000 feet! As I sat contemplating my bad geographic and climatic luck, the thought struck us- what if we could charter an airliner jet that could get us high enough and far enough south to put Halley’s in view and get passengers to pay for the experience? Thus was born the idea for Halley’s Comet Jet Flights. My school district was more accommodating in letting me offer the flight as a Teacher In-Service Day activity. This was the key to making the Comet Flights successful. My district gave each teacher a stipend that just covered the cost of a ticket.
Our flights were wildly successful. We had only planned one flight and ended up doing six. One evening we had two Alaska Airlines jets up at the same time we concluded the flights; Robbie and I had made enough money to pay for Project Undersea Uplink.
I contacted the President of the Seattle Astronomical Society, Alan MacFarlane, to come along as a guest speaker. His wife, Lynn Campbell MacFarlane, was an artist and produced the pen-and-ink sketches shown below of our first flight. Copies of her work were reproduced and made part of the Comet Flight Package we gave each participant.
The Halley’s Comet March 1986 stationery seen below was handed out to everyone after we turned on the lights on our flight back to Seattle. We encouraged our guests to take a moment and write a letter to the future, to be opened and read in the year 2062 when Halley’s will make its next appearance. People loved the idea and busied themselves with writing letters to their grandchildren. Special envelopes were provided with the suggestion that these letters be sealed and placed in a safety deposit box to be opened 76 years later. So sitting safely in banks and at home, important paper files are 820 written letters addressed to the future. At the same time, we cruised in an Alaska Airlines jetliner, eating breakfast and watching the sunrise over Mt. St. Helen’s, having just witnessed the magical apparition of Halley’s Comet.
Everyone received a Halley’s Comet Flight Expedition Packet and Log containing information about the jet’s crew, our PMR crew, the KOMO TVs crew, where the comet was at the time we saw it and the names of everyone on board each of the 7 flights we conducted.