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May, 2001 - Santo's New Balloon

From concept sketches to first flight

[Click on thumbnails to see full size pictures]
Design and Construction

Santo decides to order his new balloon in the exact same color scheme as his old one. Here's the order documentation.

Cutting table
The folks at Aerostar International took these pictures during the construction of the balloon, using a disposable camera that Santo sent them, and which they shipped in the basket when the balloon was ready.

The first step is cutting out the panels. Under computer control, the panels are cut, several layers at a time, on a sophisticated cutting table. Pictured are both the cutting table, and the control computer console.

Sewing panels
The remainder of the process consists of a lot of sewing, using industrial double-needle sewing machines. You can see several sewing stations on the factory floor, allowing multiple balloons to be built at once.

Installing crown ring
All of the vertical load tapes, 16 of them on this 16-gore Aurora design, are sewn to the crown ring. The load tapes form the "skeleton" of the balloon, and carry the load.

Parachute installed
The parachute, sewn separately, has been installed and tied into place.

Folded to go!
The envelope is folded and rolled, ready to put in the bag. It will be test-inflated once before it is packed up with the basket and burners for freight delivery.
Delivery and Unpacking

Here comes the truck!
Santo decides to document the entire delivery process with pictures.

The great day finally arrives, when the shipment is due at the freight terminal. Santo is there to watch the truck pull up to the loading dock...

The big box
...see the package sitting there in that great big container...

...observe the forklift operator unloading the precious package...

Ready to go home
...and place it neatly on the trailer for transport back home.

Back at the ranch, the unwrapping process commences. Santo calls me to tell me that the shipment has arrived, and I lose no time going over to his house to "help" him. This is the closest I'm going to get to a brand new balloon for some time, and I'm determined to be there.

Happy smiles!
Santo's wife assists in the opening of the box, so I take the opportunity to record them in the presence of the new addition.

Out of the bag
The new balloon is pulled out of the bag for the first time...

Color-coding connections
...and we get to work assembling the various components, and color-coding the carabiners and their attachment points on the envelope for future convenience in set-up on the launch field.

Lower end
The lower end, fully assembled, except for the burner. This system is slightly different from Santo's last one in that it has padded uprights, and two 15-gallon vertical fuel tanks instead of the single lay-down 25-gallon tank in the previous balloon.

One happy camper
The envelope is back in its bag, and stowed on the trailer in front of the basket.

Look at that smile!

First Inflation and Flight

As anybody who's ever taken delivery of a new balloon can tell you, it causes the weather to deteriorate!

As it turns out, it's over two weeks later when we finally get a flyable day. And then, to further complicate things, Santo's car is in the shop. Happily, Santo and I have similar-sized hitches on our vehicles, so I bring along "the little white car that could" to pull Santo's trailer.

Robert Zirpolo comes over to us to admire the new balloon, commenting on the color of the trim.

Laying out the envelope
We're at the Farmington launch site this morning, and there are 6 other balloons here today. The wind is out of the northeast, so we expect to be heading toward Bristol. Clayton is along to chase.

The setup is smooth, although it takes a little longer than usual since the new instrument transducer pack has to be installed in the parachute during the inflation.

About to go hot
Santo gives a grin before beginning the hot inflation.

We're off!
The first shot of the new balloon in flight, courtesy of Clayton.

Chase vehicles
Looking back at the field after take-off, we view the unholy alliance of the red trailer and the little white car that could!

Santo and Clyde
The other balloon belongs to Clyde Livingston, another CLAS member.

Touch and go

Approach to landing
During the the flight, we take advantage of some open areas to do some touch-and-go practice landings.

The combination of the brand new fabric, and the newer, more powerful, Zone V Turbo burner require a light touch on the controls to avoid "overburning." I notice this particularly, when I take the controls for a while to allow Santo to experiment with the new Ball M57 instrument pack, since my balloon is getting old and porous, and my burner is much less powerful.

Clayton and Jim

Santo and Clayton
The flight is picture-perfect, and we land, as expected in Bristol.

We conclude the documentation of the flight with some crew pictures, before heading off to a well-earned breakfast.

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