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August 6, 2000 - First Passenger

Claude's ride

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]
We're flying from Panthorn Park in Southington this morning. Surface forecast is light and variable, with southwest wind at about 7kt at 3000 feet. Robert and Matt are here again, and just before we all launch, Erwin Dressel floats by, having taken off earlier from his yard. Robert and Matt leave about 10 minutes before us.

Al and Claude are crewing today and Claude is pleasantly surprised when I ask him to climb into the basket. We climb slowly out of the launch field, keeping an eye on the winds and how they vary with altitude. Below 200 feet, we drift to the south a little before turning northeast and then north as we continue to climb. Panthorn Park is just west of I-84, so we're greeted with honking horns and waves from below as we head toward 1,000 feet.

In this shot we're looking behind us at Panthorn Park. In the lower right hand corner of the picture you can see the road (it passes between the tennis courts and the baseball field) where we landed on Michele's birthday. Our course today will be an almost exact reversal of that day's flight.

Here's Claude over Southington, enjoying his ride! By now we're going straight north.
After a while, we pick up a drift to the northeast. Ahead, close to I-84, there is a complex of office buildings surrounded by parking lots and open green areas and I'm looking at it as a great landing site candidate but I have ample fuel and decide to fly on.

Immediately afterward, there is a nice field behind a commercial building, but a closer inspection reveals livestock. Robert has now landed at the baseball fields on Spring Street, one of our usual launch sites (you can see his balloon deflated just by the trees in the lower left of the picture), Matt is landing a couple of fields over to the right, and now I'm headed a bit to the right of that again.

The wind is quite variable and we first turn right and then, after a time, we just stop. However, I've noticed from watching Matt land that he drifted and slid to the left as he landed. Sure enough, on descending to within 100 feet of the trees, we reverse direction almost completely, and I manage to back up into a cut hay field for a gentle landing, brushing the basket through the tops of the trees as we descend.

Once the balloon has cooled a little, I send Claude to the house a couple of hundred yards away to ask permission to bring the car and trailer onto the property to retrieve the balloon (I know the homeowners are awake, as one of them was waving to me from a downstairs window just after we landed). Having secured permission, he takes the radio and walks to the road to direct Al, parked fairly close by on Spring Street, to the access driveway. Meanwhile I keep the balloon warm using the whisper burner (normally used for flying over livestock) so as to disturb the people as little as possible.

After Al has brought the trailer onto the landing field, we take a few minutes for some pictures. First, Claude climbs back in the basket for Al to take a picture, then he takes a picture of the entire balloon with Al standing by the basket.

The grass is quite wet, so we spread the tarps and deflate the balloon onto them rather than get the fabric wet before it is packed away. Then it's off to Gene's, our usual diner in Southington, where we meet up with the pilots and crews from the other 3 balloons.

Our overall track this morning, uploaded from the GPS unit. Our direction was toward the north for the first half hour, and toward the northeast for the remainder of the flight.
Here is a detail view of the initial few minutes of the flight. You can see quite clearly the box wind we found close to the surface just after launch, as we climbed away from the field.
This is a detail view of the final 18 minutes or so of the flight. A full 14 of those minutes are the time from when we descended to about 150 feet to begin going south, to when we landed! (We had been doing speeds from 4kt to 7kt, but lower down where the direction changed, we were doing about 0.3kt) This is not uncommon in light and variable wind systems where you sometimes need to have great patience (and plenty of fuel reserve, hence good planning!) to get into your final landing field.

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