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November 25, 2000 - First round-trip

Jean goes nowhere!

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]
This morning we're flying from Spring St, in the company of 4 other balloons (Matt, Erwin, Robert and Santo). Al is crewing and chasing this morning and I'm taking Santo's sister-in-law, Jean, for a ride while her daughters ride with Santo in his balloon.

Here's Jean, aloft and smiling.

It's a cold, clear, morning with light north-northwest winds forecast on the surface and light and variable at 3,000 feet; when we arrive at the launch field at about 6:10am, the ambient temperature is 25F and there's heavy frost on the grass. Al and I are pretty efficient about setting up the balloon (apart from a short delay when I accidentally turn off the fan and then can't get it restarted) and Macarena joins us from Santo's crew for the hot inflation. Jean jumps in and we get the balloon light using the inflation tank; this takes a little longer than usual since I don't have a heated jacket on the inflation tank, and the propane pressure is a bit low due to today's low temperature.

We start a slow climb so we can assess the wind at various altitudes. After an initial drift toward the south, we pick up a predominantly northwest direction. The other balloons have climbed more rapidly and are heading in the opposite direction, so we start up there, too, but still at a moderate rate. Al, still sitting in the car at Spring St., wonders on the radio if we're waiting for him!!! I tell him to sit tight for now. Then Santo comes on the radio and offers me $1 if I land back at Spring St. I start to keep that option in mind while planning the remainder of the flight.

In the first shot, we see the other balloons in the distance, silhouetted against Meriden Mountain.

The other picture is the view toward the northeast, where the city of Hartford can be seen in the distance.

At about 2,200 feet I start to get the right turn I'm looking for, and I end up at 2,500 feet going directly east for a time. I could go higher and get more of a southeast drift like the others, but now I've gone about 2/3 of a mile north of the launch site and I'm not going to want to go as far as they've gone. After tracking east for a time, I descend a bit and start going northwest again, where there are plenty of large back yards, and deserted industrial parking lots, in case I can't turn south again. Just to hedge my bets, I ask Al to leave the launch site and drive north, to put him a little closer to our current position.

There are lots of smoke stacks visible all over the valley, and it's becoming pretty clear that the smoke below us is drifting south. Al asks if I'm planning to land, and I respond that I've decided to "go for the dollar," so I descend to try to catch that direction. When we get the sharp left turn we're looking for, I send Al back to Spring St.

Interestingly, by now the wind speed lower down has picked up, and the GPS has us doing 5 or 6 mph as we head south. Jean is particularly impressed with the feeling of going a bit faster while closer to the ground, over the trees.

We make our approach to Spring St. a couple of hundred feet to the east of the ball field from which we took off, over the trees, now completely bare of leaves. Our track is directly along the empty gravel parking lot and, as soon as we've cleared the tree line, still traveling at about 5 mph, I vent aggressively to land as close to the upwind side of the lot as possible, while burning to arrest the rate of descent. [When landing on an asphalt or other hard surface while you're moving at more than a couple of miles per hour, it takes longer to stop the horizontal movement of the balloon than it would on a grassy surface.] We bounce and skid a little, while I use the vent to control the balloon. Al drives onto the parking lot and runs to us, helping to stabilize the basket.

We then walk the balloon about 20 yards to the grass, and deflate it, after which we take some pictures to mark the occasion of my first time landing back at my launch site. First, Jean and I pose with the deflated balloon before pack-up, then a couple of shots of Al and myself, pointing out our proximity to your launch point.

Robert and his passengers and crew arrive for their post-flight champagne celebration just as we're getting ready to put the equipment back on the trailer, so we have eye-witnesses!

Here's an aerial shot of the Spring St. site from a previous flight, on which I've marked today's take-off and landing positions.

Incidentally, the subtitle above ("Jean goes nowhere!") is based on our post-flight discussion of an anecdote I read on the Internet. Apparently a commercial balloon ride operator managed to take his passengers on one of those not-so-common flights where they landed after an hour back at the launch site. The passengers apparently refused to pay for the ride on the basis that they hadn't "been brought anywhere!"

Our GPS ground track from today's flight, covering about 4.4 miles in 45 minutes, but traveling a net distance of a couple of hundred feet!

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