Why a DC-8 flew so low over Long Beach this week

NASA caused a bit of concern with a couple of low-altitude flyovers of its DC-8 at Long Beach Airport and Downtown Long Beach on Wednesday.

Space Force! Mars! The Moon! Spies!

In fact, the flights involved the more down-to-Earth matter of student research with its passenger list of undergraduate students taking part in the eleventh year of NASA’s Student Airborne Research Program.

Flying aboard NASA’s DC-8 airborne laboratory Tuesday and Wednesday, students sampled and measured atmospheric gases to study pollution and air quality, according to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research spokeswoman Kate Squires.

The Palmdale-based plane can carry 30,000 pounds of scientific instruments and equipment and can seat up to 45 experimenters and flight crew.

In addition to its local flyovers, the students flew as low as 1,000 feet over dairies, oil fields and wineries throughout the L.A. basin, the San Joaquin Valley, the Santa Barbara Channel and the Salton Sea in order to collect air samples and measure atmospheric gases such as methane and ozone.

The 28 student researchers majoring in sciences, mathematics and engineering who are participating in the eight-week program are hosted by the University of California, Irvine, where they will analyze the data they’ve collected, along with data gathered by participants in earlier Student Airborne Research Programs to compare them with current observations.

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Tim Grobaty is a columnist and opinions editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his newspaper career at the Press-Telegram in 1976 as a copy boy and moved on to feature writer, music critic, TV critic, copy editor and daily columnist. He’s the author of several books, including I’m Dyin’ Here, and he lives in Long Beach.