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January 13, 2001 - First Snow Flight

"Dumb and Dumber!"

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]

Cleared for take-off!
Over the last day or two, it's become clear that this weekend would bring clear skies and light winds so, although it's cold, it's been 7 weeks since I flew, and I talk Santo into coming out to fly with me in "Big Green." When we arrive at our launch site, a parking lot at Panthorn Park in Southington, to 12F temperatures, Santo declares that an appropriate title for the flight would be "Dumb and Dumber" (me for wanting to fly in the cold, him for agreeing!). Of course we're both delighted for the opportunity to fly. I'm also excited as it's my first time flying over a snow-covered landscape.

Al is along to chase us today, and takes this shot before we launch. That's me, with the shades and hat. I borrowed the hat (without permission) from my son Andrew (who has flown with me in Plainville last August as well as one day last October) before leaving home this morning, and it figures in the landing (see later).

Approaching I-691

Looking back up I-84

Right after we take off, Santo suggests we do a practice landing, so after an initial climb I level off, and then descend gently into the snow-covered basefield field beyond. We then climb out of the field, and ascend to cross the interstate. In the first few minutes afterward, I'm doing a bit of bouncing up and down while I figure out the feel of the balloon in the cold. It seems as though the balloon, as it cools, transitions from level flight to a rapid descent more quickly than on a warmer day where the transition is more gradual, beginning with a slow descent. It just requires more anticipation and I get the hang of it fairly quickly.

We had a snowstorm two weeks ago that brought about 12 inches of snow, and couple of inches more since then, so the valley is covered in a blanket of snow, although all of the roads are clear.

In the first shot, we're about to cross the start of I-69I where I-84 exits onto it. In the second, we're looking back up I-84. Our parking lot launch site is marked with a red dot (easier to see in the full-size version, which you can see by clicking on the thumbnail picture).


...and Dumber!
We also take the time for a couple of smiling pilot pictures!

Approach to landing
There are no more immediate landing sites along our path, so we ascend looking for the push to the east suggested by the winds aloft forecast, and find out that it probably doesn't kick in until much higher. We do, however, notice that there's a fair amount of steerability between 500 feet and 1000 feet.

Clear of the interstate, we decide to do another landing in the empty parking lot of an industrial facility. I make a low approach over the bare trees, touching the basket to the tops of some before dropping behind them and leveling out about 10 feet above the ground. We're still over the piles of ploughed snow at the edge of the lot, so I keep the balloon level just above the ground (the GPS log shows that it was about 2 minutes; although my GPS doesn't record altitude, it's easy to pick out the 2-minute period about 35 minutes into the flight where we slow down to a crawl) until we very slowly cross onto the hard-top, at which point I allow the balloon to cool so we settle onto the ground. We take off again, knowing that we're going be current for the next 90 days, since our final landing today will be the third.

Just landed
Shortly after this take-off, we're looking for our final landing spot. Now it gets interesting, as the wind low down becomes calm (after we first spend 10 minutes chasing a right turn that, on the evidence of a smokestack below, appears to be available to take us into a nice ploughed parking lot, but turns out not to exist when we get close), and up higher is taking us toward an area with a lot of trees. We decide to go higher and find a wind to move us past the trees quickly, rather than stay lower down and arrive at our intended landing spot with too small a fuel reserve. We are able to work several directional layers to make a high approach, above 1000 feet, toward a quiet neighborhood with no powerlines. We direct Al to our target and have him get out of the car to accept a dropline from us. When we're about 100 yards upwind of the street, we start our descent. As I'm slowing the descent closer to the ground, I'm leaning over the side of the basket to check for obstacles since our approach is almost vertical, and I feel Andrew's hat slip off my head. I watch it fall out of the basket but there's not much I can do about it. We drop Al the line when we're below 100 feet and directly above him. With his guidance, we descend gently onto the road.

Almost immediately we have company from various neighbors, several with cameras, eager to see the balloon and offering help with the pack-up. As sometimes happens with a neighborhood landing, one of the neighbors asks "What was the problem?" and is quite surprised to hear our response "Your neighborhood looked like a great place to land, so here we are!" I ask him to take a picture of Santo and myself in the basket before we pack up. Another neighbor asks for my address, as he's taken some pictures and wants to share them with us when they're developed.

Santo and Al spread the tarps
Santo gets out, and he and Al lay out our tarps on the street, as there's a lot of sand that was spread during the snow storm. You can see them doing this in the background of the picture at left. Then they come back to the basket, and I get the balloon light again so they can walk me the few yards to where they've laid the tarps. We deflate and pack up quickly, and load the trailer. One of the neighbors tells me "Thanks for the show!" and we drive off in search of breakfast.

Oh, yes, the fell beside a mailbox right by where Al parked the car, and he retrieved it unharmed. Andrew thought it was neat that his hat had an adventure.

Our GPS ground track from today's flight. We drifted slowly on an overall southerly track at a lazy average speed of about 2mph, sometimes stopping altogether and once or twice racing along at 4mph! There was some steerability available (we saw actual GPS headings from 090 through about 230) although the various directional wind layers were pretty thin and unreliable.

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