From June 4-8 I participated in Session 2 of the DARPA Computer Science Study Group. There are 12 members of us in the 2007 class (the second year the CSSG has been run). The basic idea is to expose young faculty to Department of Defense-related activities, via briefings by military and intelligence officers and "field trips" to military and industrial bases. It is truly a hard-core experience filled with days of interesting briefings and up-close show-and-tell with vehicles and equipment. The first session was in April in the DC area, which included a visit to the Pentagon, specifically the National Military Command Center.

Session 2 started at the US Joint Forces Command in Norfolk. Later that afternoon we went to the Langley Air Force base to get up close to an F-22 Raptor, a relatively new, high-tech, and expensive (about $340 million per) fighter jet. Pretty cool- unfortunately we couldn't take pictures. We were shown the plane by one of the six pilots who earlier this year experienced a major malfunction (no navigation or communication) when the plane crossed the International Date Line for the first time (more here).

The next day we visited the Naval Network Warfare Command in the morning. We then had a tour of the USS Monterey, a guided missile cruiser. Just about all the knobs, switches, dials, and buttons you'd imagine:

I like these cabinets with combination locks labeled "Confidential" and "Secret".

Main controls on the bridge- not exactly a single-button interface:

The big gun on the front can fire 5" shells of various types. The hatches on the right open up to fire missiles.

Next we visited the USS Nassau, a massive LHA (Landing Helicopter Assault) ship, which has a crew of about 1100 and can transport 3000 marines as well as planes, helicopters, tanks, trucks, etc.

Finally, we toured the USS Albany, a nuclear attack submarine. I was happy to see the Empire State Plaza represented on the ship's seal.

Thanks to Michael Youngblood for these pictures:

Next we took a KC-135 military refueling aircraft from Norfolk to Ft. Bragg in Fayetteville, NC. Unlike commercial aircraft, this one had no climate control (very hot on the ground, can get very cool in the air), and occasionally had a strong jet fuel smell. It was super-noisy and required earplugs, and had no frills (e.g. windows). Ours was outfitted with some simple coach-class style seats. All that said, it was not at all uncomfortable while in the air, and it was better than flying in a crowded cabin in coach!

The centerpiece of the next day was the jump from the 34-foot training tower at the Advanced Airborne School at Ft. Bragg. Appararently 34 feet was decided to be a good psychological threshold for screwing up the courage to jump. The tower is along the lines of a fire tower you'd find in a national park. You jump out the side, attached to a wire that runs down the course. At the other end, you stick out your arms and legs and someone catches you and guides you down a ladder. You're wearing a backpack and holding a front pack that are meant to have the form factors of the main and backup parachutes, but in real life jumpers carry something like 100 pounds of stuff.

Unfortunately, the video of me jumping didn't come out, but you can see basically the same thing here. Looks like a snap, but it feels a little different when you're about to jump into free space.

For lunch, we had MRE's, which were surprisingly tasty, though I wouldn't want to eat them every day. Mine was "Chicken with noodles", with pineapple, crackers, M&M's, and a vanilla shake. Only a small amount of water was required to activate the "flameless ration heater"- pretty cool.

In the afternoon we got to hang out with some Black Hawk helicopters, used for carrying troops and aerial assault.

That afternoon we flew from Pope Air Force Base to Miami in the KC-135. It was very exciting to watch the air-to-air refueling of three F-15's. We all got to lie down on our stomachs in the boom at the back of the plane and watch as the boom operator lowered the nozzle into each plane's tank. When not being fueled, the jets flew in station next to our plane, very close by. It was really something!

The next day we had briefings at the US Southern Command, responsible for operations in Central and South America.

We then flew to Tampa in the KC-135. This time I got to be in the cockpit for takeoff.

We rounded out the trip with briefings at the US Special Operations Command and the US Central Command in Tampa.