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June 4, 2000 - Training flight

Slow boat to Plainville

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]
There are three balloons in the air this morning, all of us launching from the Little League ball fields on Spring Street in northern Southington. Both Robert Zirpolo and Matt Dutkiewicz, the other two pilots, are members of CLAS, our local balloon club. Matt's is the higher-appearing balloon in this shot, with Robert's below, while we're in "Big Green" off to the right.

Macarena is chasing us solo today. Robert also has a chase crew (he's doing a commercial ride today with 4 passengers on board). Matt leaves his trailer and vehicle at the launch field, planning to hitch a ride back with one of the other crews at the end of the flight, to get the trailer and return to the landing field to pick up his balloon. This is not an uncommon technique that's useful when flying alongside other balloons and you're short on chase crew.

There isn't much wind near the surface, and what wind there is is quite tricky to read, with several fairly thin directional layers between the surface and 1,000 feet. After a gentle climb to probe the lower layers, we climb fairly rapidly (at about 500 fpm), getting one more requirement out of the way (one requirement for the private balloon certificate is a flight to more than 2,000 feet above the launch site).

Next we let the balloon cool to set up a terminal velocity descent (another maneuver that's useful to have done, in order to gauge the responsiveness of the balloon), practising a recovery using the whisper burner.

We spend most of the remainder of the flight trying to work the very light winds to get to a suitable landing site. When Matt and Robert are both approaching Plainville High School, we're still about a quarter of a mile back, moving very slowly. We attempt a landing in a baseball field, traversing the field several hundred feet above, and then descending, since our experience earlier in the flight is that the wind close to the ground will cause us to reverse our course. We ask Macarena to leave the chase car and come onto the field to receive a drop line; she snaps this picture as we drift over her while she locks the car. Unfortunately the wind close to the ground is a little stronger than we'd expected (although still very light), which causes us to back up too far toward the near edge of the field. We climb out rapidly, and go back up to try it again, only to find that the wind direction at 500 feet is now different (Santo says "that's why they call it light and variable, Jim!").

At this point, we identify a favorable drift toward the high school too, so we go with it, taking care not to descend until we're well over the playing fields. We pass over the other two balloons (now mostly deflated), and throw a drop line to Robert who pulls us in to land beside his balloon. The grass is a bit wet with dew, so rather than get the balloon damp or deal with laying out our tarps, we walk the balloon to the parking lot and deflate it there. There's a fence in the way, so we pop over it while the crew holds the drop line, land and stabilize the balloon again, shut down the fuel system and deflate onto the tarmac of the parking lot.

Our longest flight to date in BG, a total of a little more than an hour.

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