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July 1, 2000 - Solo Flight

On my own again...

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]

Spring St. again this morning. We're flying alongside Robert Zirpolo's big (140) balloon and Erwin Dressel's today. The surface winds are light and the winds aloft forecast to be 11kt at 3,000 feet, so it looks like it's going to be my second solo flight. This time I bring the camera aloft, thinking that I may get a chance to snap a few pictures, but only if I feel unpressured.

Pictured are two views from just after take-off. First, Santo and Macarena, chase crew du jour, pull out of the launch field in the "little white car that could." Since we've been spending so much time at Spring St., the least I could do is take a decent picture of it; the second shot is looking back shortly after launch. The three balloons (I was the last to leave) took off from the middle ball field in the upper part of the picture.

I play "follow-the-leader" with the other two balloons as we head toward the southeast. This is a nice view of the two balloons (Erwin in the foreground, Robert higher in the distance) heading toward Meriden Mountain as I climb toward my ultimate altitude of about 2,300 feet.

Santo has sent me aloft today with his new toy, a Garmin GPS III Plus and, when I take a quick look, I see I'm doing 32 mph! Hmmm - now that's a bit different from the winds aloft forecast. I'm not too concerned, since I've come from gentle on the surface through about 15kt at 1,000 feet to the current speed and altitude. Even so, Santo, realizing that I'm zipping along, radios "Jim, the flags are hanging limp down here," a transmission that would certainly have eased any concerns I might have had.

Passing the ridge we all descend. Robert is in the distance, about to do a splash and dash in Hanover Pond. You can see Meriden Markham Municipal Airport (MMK) immediately to his left in the picture. Erwin is a little lower than I am currently, and my current track is straight toward the airport.
I'm just entering Meriden and starting to look at specific landing options when I see my balloon's shadow off the to the right. I can't pass up a shadow shot, so here it is!
It's only 35 minutes into the flight, but there are so many perfect landing sites around me that it would be silly not to take advantage ("first good spot after 30 minutes").

As I approach a large back yard, the lady standing on the deck invites me to land: "One of your balloons landed in my yard last year - would you like to land here today?" The ultimate in landowner relations - an invitation to land! I reply that it's possible, but unlikely due to my track, instead asking her what the school ahead is. "Platt High School," comes the response and, after thanking her, I turn to the task of landing in one of the two schools (I've just decided that the other school - which I later identify as Lincoln Junior High School - across the street from the first, is a better option for me). During a slow descent, I realize the wind changes direction drastically a couple of hundred feet above the ground. A quick look at the GPS confirms that my track has switched from 165 to 002, i.e. from almost south to almost north, so now I'm starting to drift backwards!

With that information in hand, I go back up, overfly the ball field at the Junior High, and then descend again to "back up" into the field. I overburn slightly on the final part of my approach over the field, starting a gentle ascent that I don't arrest aggressively enough with the vent, so by the time I'm ready to land, I've drifted to the right, close to the light uprights at the edge of the field. Santo is on the field by now, so I drop him a line to have him keep me away from the pole, while I land gently on the outfield.

After Santo and Macarena walk the balloon closer to the access path near the third base line, I ask Santo to snap this picture of me and Macarena before we deflate the balloon.

Epilogue The lady from the back yard, along with some other bystanders, is at the field fence, and I invite them to come closer to take a look if they'd like (most people are shy about approaching, figuring they'll be in the way, I assume). Then she says "You landed at the wrong school!" I guess there's no point in explaining that I changed my mind...

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