Flight 02-D was one of six flights at the 2002 Great Plains Super Launch. Because of the forecast winds, the launch was moved from the Johnson Near Space Center about 8 miles southwest of Manhattan to the Herington Municipal Airport about 7 miles east of Herington.
The launch crews began arriving about 7am. A few of the local residents had come out to watch the launch, and some more came as the morning progressed. Skies were clear but hazy, with temps in the low 70s and quite humid. An occasional light breeze was out of the southeast.
We unloaded our equipment and began moving the helium tanks outside. Though we had permission to use the hangar, the ceiling and door were a little low and with the light winds it was quite suitable to launch outside. We spent a fair amount of time checking out payloads and began filling around 8:30am. Six groups flew on this morning - TVNSP, NSTAR, EOSS, Traveler, KD0FW, and HABITAT.
Mike KD0FW brought an old and rather unusual balloon. The balloon had a date code of 1980 and the latex was a very dark brown. However, it was still flexible and looked OK. There was a string running inside the balloon that was attached to the top and terminated in a plastic ring at the bottom.
A couple of minor problems soon cropped up. KD0FW's balloon took a decided turn for the worse. The balloon developed a bulge on one side and looked like an aneurysm ready to pop. Sometime a little after 9am the 22-year-old balloon gave out and with a snap released all its helium. Fortunately WB8ELK had his 1200g balloon that he couldn't use, so we were still able to fly his payload.
The other minor problem occurred while EOSS was filling. The hose came off the regulator and could not be reattached. With a combination of duct tape and another regulator assembly, they were also able to continue.
A little later, the wind began to pick up with some gusts to 10-15 knots. This spurred us to get moving a little faster and we walked the balloons into launch position around 9:30am. As our group winched our balloon out, I noticed that the shroud lines were not straight - the shroud ring needed turned around. I unhooked the payloads and got it sorted out after a few tense moments.
Finally, we were ready to go. Paul KD4STH did a "ready" call for all the groups and after a five-count, everyone let their payloads go at 9:42:30am CDT (+/- 5 sec). What a sight! All of the balloons drifted to the northwest as they rose into the hazy Kansas sky. See a movie from the payload's view (12 Mb Windows Media).
With a short chase expected, we had plenty of time to load our equipment. All the payloads were running fine and putting out good data. With 5 APRS payloads on 144.34 MHz (KD0FW was tracked by DF only), it was a busy frequency! Three of the payloads were time slotted (EOSS, TVNSP, and NSTAR), while the other two (Traveler, HABITAT) were at intervals that would not consistently collide with the same payload. The sharing worked out well and we had plenty of data for tracking purposes.
Around 10:20am we left the launch site and headed towards Herington. We planned to stop at a gas station Street Atlas USA had promised us, but it had gone out of business. Fortunately there was a Dairy Queen next door and several stopped in for some snacks. We stayed at the Dairy Queen until about 10:50am, soon after Traveler had burst (the first of the day).
As we left Herington, it became apparent Traveler would be down well before the others, and that we could chase it to its landing and still have time to make the other landings. With the capsule reporting about once per minute, it was difficult to dead-reckon the reports into where to look. We chased north of Highway 4 on some gravel roads and pulled up parallel to Traveler's track about 1/2 mile to the west. To my knowledge, none of us saw it touch down at 11:11 am CDT.
Seeing that Traveler was in a relatively safe area with its own chase team going for the recovery, we then took a look at what else was happening. While we were chasing Traveler on its terminal descent, EOSS and TVNSP had burst shortly before 11am. Both were coming down in close proximity to each other, with TVNSP about three minutes lower. We got back on Hwy 4 westbound and headed for Hope and then Elmo, KS. Enroute to Hope, we saw that NSTAR had burst at 11:25 at an altitude of 81,978 ft. With the light winds all from the SSE below about 30,000 ft, the end part of the chase was relatively easy. We turned north on Hwy 15 and began considering where to stop to see TVNSP land.
As we stopped on 15, TVNSP was crossing over the road and from the track looked as though it would land nearby. I got out of the car and was able to see TVNSP at about 1000 ft AGL. At times it appeared it would stop moving north, so I hopped the fence with my camera thinking maybe I could run a couple hundred yards and catch it. But then it took off to the north again and landed a few hundred yards away at 11:44am in what looked like a good area.
Map showing all five balloon tracks, plus approximate landing location for KD0FW's non-APRS package
With the second payload on the ground, my attention turned to EOSS on nearly the same track. Since I had a good vantage point, I decided to stay in place and look for the EOSS payload. Sure enough, within a minute or two it was also visible and it landed a little farther away at 11:47am.
Now it was NSTAR's turn. Actually, it looked like it too would land not far away. Using the just-completed descents of the other two payloads, I surmised the landing would be west and a bit north of the EOSS landing. We went north to the next county road and then west a mile.
Suddenly, APRSPlus locked up on me with NSTAR still a couple of minutes from landing. I couldn't close the program and a bit later lost the OS. Great - a chance for another "catch" and I'm without data for the last few minutes. Paul KC0KXR and Doug KA0O both had APRSPlus, so after some frantic running back and forth we made another adjustment for our vantage point.
We stopped on a gravel road on the next section boundary west of the EOSS and TVNSP landings and got out to look for the parachute. There it was! About 1000 feet up, off to our SSE and headed our way. The payload was descending in a spiral manner and I thought maybe it would come close enough to us to catch the power lines next to the road. But it stopped short and fell into a corn field about 100 yds east of the road at 12:02pm CDT.
We found the landowner and got permission to get the payload. Everything was intact and operating - the corn even kept the payloads from hitting the ground. After we got back, Mike W5VSI and Rick N0KKZ joined us. We took a few pictures and then got on the radio to find out where to go next.
Don KA0JLF's payload had also come down nearby, about 10 minutes before NSTAR did. We got a general description of where it was and drove off that direction. Shortly we got a packet of the landing position and parked on the road next to the field it landed in. Soon most everyone had arrived and Don went off in search of his payload, which was also found intact.
Now the only one left to deal with was Mike KD0FW's ATV and simplex repeater. EOSS, with its extensive DF experience was already on the job. As we moved back east, we tried to key up the simplex repeater on 147.585 in the hopes of having a stronger signal to DF. Others were listening on the ATV carrier frequency. Since there were plenty of vehicles in the hunt, those of us with vehicles capable of hauling helium tanks went back to the airport to move them closer to Manhattan and save some time for Paul on Monday.
After getting the tanks, we headed for Junction City to leave film at Wal-Mart and sat down to get something to drink. While waiting on the 1-hour photo job, we found out that Mike's package had been successfully located and everyone was arriving at Cracker Barrel for a mid-afternoon lunch.
As it turned out, we could have flown from JNSC if our payloads had followed the same profile. Traveler would have landed between Fort Riley and the Milford Reservoir, and the rest would have been a few miles west of the reservoir. But it still would not have been safe to do so.