Astronomer jets up, up and away with Blue Angels

Alex Filippenko gives a thumbs up for take off.

Astronomer Alex Filippenko shows he’s ready for take-off in a jet fighter piloted by Lt. Mark Tedrow, one of the Navy’s elite Blue Angels team. Noelle Filippenko photo.

For the lucky few, soaring over San Francisco with the Blue Angels is the dream of a lifetime you want to sit back and enjoy. But for UC Berkeley astronomer Alex Filippenko, it was a teaching opportunity.

As he banked and rolled over the Bay Area yesterday (Wednesday, Oct. 3), he took the opportunity to videotape in-flight physics lessons he hopes to use in outreach to the public.

It was an “out-of-this-world experience,” he wrote in an email. “We broke the sound barrier … It was incredible!”

The Blue Angels, the Navy’s elite flight-demonstration team, are in town to celebrate the annual Fleet Week.

Filippenko flew as part of the Blue Angels’ Key Influencers program, in part because of Filippenko’s role in the research that led to last year’s Nobel Prize in physics. One of the other Key Influencers was local hero Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the famed US Airways pilot who landed a passenger liner in the Hudson River three years ago.

Filippenko’s jet was piloted by Navy Lt. Mark Tedrow, who took Berkeley’s well-known black hole expert through rolls and turns where he felt the effects of 6.2 Gs — more than six times the force of gravity — as well as weightlessness at 0 G and even negative Gs, all perfect conditions for experiments that will wow his Astro 10 students.

“Besides being a heck of a lot of fun, there were so many interesting physical principles to talk about before and during the flight,” he told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter.


EXTRAS: To view more video science lessons recorded by Filippenko during his sojourn with the Blue Angels, link to his YouTube site.