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Category: 2002
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The flight itself went pretty well, though we did have a scare towards the end that made me think I'd be building another payload.

The team arrived at Scott KC0MTH's place about 7am. The weather was near perfect for a launch, though a bit chilly for mid-May - there was frost on the ground when we arrived. Skies were clear and there was practically no wind. We started filling a little late, nearly 7:50am. Launch occurred at 0818 CDT.

We knew we had a long chase ahead of us, so we hit the road soon after launch. The balloon was right on the forecast track, but our ascent rate was 1300-1400 ft/min, faster than expected. In any case, we stuck with the pre-launch plan of heading towards Grant City, MO via US59/US34/Hwy 25/US169. The crossband repeater worked well in the beginning, but we didn't hear much other than kerchunking after a half hour or so.

Burst occurred at 0935 CDT at 93,412 ft. The descent rates looked good after burst, but they gave me a brief scare that the chute fouled - they increased for two consecutive reports instead of decreasing like they should. After that, the descent settled into the normal pattern.

A while later, we began to hear traffic again on the repeater. Ralph W0RPK was able to get in to tell us that he would not be chasing from his QTH. As the balloon descended below 20,000 feet, I began to be concerned about the landing. My "eyeball" projections were putting the landing near the confluence of three rivers southwest of Albany, MO. As it got lower and lower, I was increasingly concerned that it would actually land in the river, or at least in the trees near the river. The last position report I got at 2300 ft MSL (about 1300ft AGL) showed the balloon within 50-100 yards of Street Atlas's plot of the East Fork of the Grand River. The winds were so light at that level, and they were from the north anyway that with the river oriented north-south there was little or no hope of the balloon moving far away from the river at the last minute.

Not knowing what the river was like, I had visions of the payloads actually landing in the river and floating downstream, or at a minimum in the trees alongside. Most rivers in the area have a lot of trees on both banks, so I had visions of trying to find out the landowner's name and location, getting a chain saw, etc. Or, if it landed in the river, figuring whether it would be worth it to search along the banks for it in case it drifted to the edge, and so on. The payload had landed by the time we approached Grant City, so we stopped briefly at a gas station for a restroom break.

Street Atlas USA showed some roads leading to within a half mile of the last position report. From the way some of them were bent and twisted, I was sure they were narrow gravel roads and indeed they were. SA also showed "Albany Junction" as a place name, but as we approached there was no more than a grove of trees at that location. As we approached, we got a packet from the primary payload and could hear the crossband repeater again. This was somewhat good news, as that meant the payload wasn't under water but we might still need a chain saw. As we ran out of marked roads, we drove a few hundred yards down a dirt track that was on top of a dike in the flood plain.

As I looked around I began to be more optimistic about our chances. We crossed the middle fork of the Grand River twice on the way and I wouldn't call it a river - more of a creek. Even so, I could see very tall trees that I estimated were a half mile east of us which were lining the east fork near where the capsules landed. The GPS showed 0.43 miles to the landing position.

About 1/4 mile from us was a tree line on another dike. As we walked to it in the direction of the capsules, I could see that there was another field between this tree line and the trees along the river. That made me feel better but still there was a good chance the payload was snagged in those trees. We got to the tree line and climbed up the dike to have a look.

Hallelujah! I could see the chute and payload lying on the open ground. It was about 100 yards from the treeline - fortunately the river was not very wide and neither was the tree growth along it. We walked out across the corn field and recovered the payload.

Everything was intact. The balloon shards had fouled with the repeater payload (the bottom one of the two) and may have partially fouled the chute. There was no slack in the load line from the top of the chute to where it had fouled with the payload, so we may have been lucky it didn't deform the chute so badly that it failed to work. Our descent rates were normal so the chute worked well enough. We went into nearby Albany and were lucky to find a pizza place open for lunch.

On the way home, I took note of how wooded this part of the country is. I may reconsider flights that would land us in this part of Missouri, or most any place south of Hwy 2 in Iowa. North of 2 and west of I-35 things are far more open.

View some photos taken by Kurt KC0HMI

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