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July 2, 2000 - Solo Flight

"Look Ma, no instructor..."

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]
This makes it 6 times in a row at Spring St. Our forecast is 3kt variable, and about 10kt from the west at 3,000. Based on this information, we figure we're probably going over the ridge, actually a series of ridges which run from north to south.

Although today is my third solo, it marks an important rite of passage, as it's my first flight without my instructor present. Santo, leaving for vacation today, encouraged me after yesterday's flight to fly during his absence alongside Robert if some good weather occurred. As it happens, today was forecast to be excellent, and I was lucky enough to get Carlos and Gaston late last night as crew for this morning, so here we are.

Before starting our setup, I talk to Robert briefly about the visibility which is a bit less than yesterday, reminding him that I have a 5 mile instructor-mandated visibility restriction on my solo endorsement (in the absence of any other restriction, a student pilot still needs 3 miles visibility in this class (G) of airspace when flying solo, whereas a certificated pilot needs just 1 mile). Robert responds in his usual verbose fashion "S'plenty," so we get to work inflating the balloon. This is my first time running the crew with no instructor backup but it works out very well and we're ready to take off shortly after the other two balloons (joining Robert and ourselves on the field this morning is Mike Kirkwood and his Firefly 7).

This is a shot of my crew and Robert's about to leave the launch field at Spring St. Gaston is just about to get into the driver's side of the "little white car that could."

Once again, I climb today to about 2,400 feet, following Robert (at the right) and Mike, as we track to the east toward the gap in the ridge between Shuttle Meadow Reservoir and Wasel Reservoir. At this point, I'm doing about 10kt or so (a guess, since I don't have a GPS with me today).
On descending lower to do some contour flying near the ridge, I realize I'm about to pass over a small pond, and get the camera ready in case there's a reflection shot to be had. Sure enough, I pass right over the pond! Unfortunately, a bird lands on the pond and starts some ripples, and I also shake the camera a bit, so the picture turns out less than perfectly. Even so, you can still make out the rough shape and color scheme of "Big Green" in the reflection.
The other other two balloons, about 10 minutes ahead of me, are in the process of landing at Timberland Golf Course in Berlin, CT, about 1/2 mile ahead. I've got a slightly different track to the right of theirs, and I've chosen a new neighborhood housing development to land in, currently empty except for a single set of foundations, some heavy digging equipment and the newly paved road. Carlos and Gaston are already waiting there, having navigated a very good chase with no assistance from me!

Just after I take this shadow shot looking behind me and to the left (and no, I didn't give up that gorgeous-looking field - I flew over the far right-hand corner of it in this view!), the wind dies for a while, leaving me becalmed over the trees. After a few minutes I realize that, even staying at a specific altitude to get a drift in a constant direction in the fairly complex light and variable wind system, the actual speed will be too slow to get anywhere suitable for landing given the amount of fuel I have left. I climb quickly, regain my original track, and proceed to land in the building site on the grass just short of the road. Carlos and Gaston walk me to the road, where we deflate.

Another long flight - 1 hour and 15 minutes, more than 30 minutes of that spent working on the landing.

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