From Roberto Colombo (University of Milan, Italy), 12 September

We’ve just been working out in the Czech Republic to help with the development of a concept for a candidate Earth Explorer mission called FLEX. The HyFLEX field campaign tests the mission’s measurement concept – and some of these measurements have to be taken from a cherry picker over the forest canopy.

The cherry picker lifts you high above the forest. (ESA)

The cherry picker ‘T148 MP 27’ is a hydraulic work platform truck that was manufactured by Tatra at the beginning of 1970 in Kopøivnice, in what was Ceskoslovenska Republika.

It was originally red and white, with three yellow arms. Now scattered with spots of rust, this machine has had a long life working in the field. The basket at the end of the last arm is about 170×60 cm, which is the minimum area that fits our instrument – a spectroradiometer for measuring radiance and brand new white reference panel. The white of the panel contrasts strongly with the rusty orange drum.

We carefully assembled tripods and tools and jumped into the basket, ready to take off over the forest.

Joseph, the Tatra operator on the ground, was ready to raise us into the sky. He quickly moved the arms; first the biggest one, then the middle one and then the little one to take us up and over the forest. Although we are secured by a harness  it felt pretty unstable. Everything shakes and one of the white panel’s screws comes off (which we hadn’t fixed) suddenly flipped 180°. Never mind, everything was ok and we had to move the basket horizontally over the forest to look for a good position to take our measurements.

Suspended about 25 m above the ground and about 7 m above the forest, the world is wonderful – we felt like we were floating and breathing different air. The view was beautiful, like a sea of green and we could see the tower, which is also used in the campaign, reaching high above the forest.

On our way down back to Earth! (ESA)

The space we have to work in was very small but the time passed quickly as we concentrated on our job until late afternoon. Then Joseph takes over and in a few seconds we were back on the ground.

It was an unforgettable experience!