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June 8, 2000 - Training flight

Duck, Duck, Goose...

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]

Once again, we launch this morning from the Little League fields on Spring Street in Southington. Today there are two balloons; we are flying alongside Robert Zirpolo's Firefly 8, and the winds are light and variable. We expect wind from the west based on the forecast but, as Robert launches, he drifts south. Then, as he climbs, he turns around and heads off toward the northeast.

Armed with this information from the biggest pibal in town, we launch and climb slowly to probe the wind layers ourselves. Sure enough, as we climb, our track changes from south to northeast. Santo asks me to do a touch and go in a big field a bit off our track. It's obvious in hindsight what I'm supposed to do: stay high to track northeast and over the north end of the field, and then descend to catch the push to the south and "back up" into the field. I blow it big-time, hanging around just a bit too low to stay in the northeast drift, and losing the field. I'm flying level - just at the wrong altitude! (As opposed to the last time something like this happened, when I knew the altitude I was supposed to maintain, but couldn't stop dropping away from it.)

We climb rapidly and head northeast. "So," Santo says, "what's your plan? You don't have to answer right now, but I want to hear a plan in the next few minutes." By now I've settled into the flight and I'm flying in a more relaxed state, so I point out some large green areas for possible landings along the current track. Thirty minutes into the flight, we're still heading northeast and toward the mountain ridge (which runs north/south) so we decide to descend a bit into the drift that was previously taking us south.

Tracking toward Patton Brook country club we spot a narrow tree-lined area at the far end of the club. There is a pond between the trees, and a golf-cart path beyond and a small grassy area, so we make an approach over the pond to land on the path. As we cross the pond, we scare some ducks out of the trees at the right hand side. Santo instictively reverts to his air traffic controller training, and starts telling the duck traffic they have to go around! I put a couple of inches of the basket into the last few feet of the pond, pop out, and vent to come to a nice landing on the path. We exchange greetings and chat briefly with a groundskeeper who pulls up alongside the basket in a golf-cart, and then climb out slowly to continue the flight.

After a few minutes, we begin to look for our final landing site. As we cross the back yards of some houses more-or-less parallel with the neighborhood street, I spot some nice big yards on the opposite side of the street ahead past the T intersection. Since it's so early and there's no traffic, we decide instead to land in the intersection, and keep the balloon dry. We touch down right on target, and confirm our exact street address with a jogger passing by (we were off by a couple of blocks in the instructions we gave Lisa, chasing us this morning; Lisa also took all of the pictures of this flight.) A school bus that passes by on the other street gives us lots of waves and cheers. We walk the balloon to the corner and deflate it on one lane of the quiet street.

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