The launch from the Wahoo swapmeet went pretty well given the circumstances.  All of the tall buildings had nearby power lines, so we had to use a smaller building to provide some shelter.  It helped a little bit but not much.  The winds were gusting to around 20 mph by the time we launched the 1200g Kaymont balloon at 0842 CDT.

Because I was in a hurry with the winds increasing, I did not have a chance to check the simplex repeater before launch.  I'm pretty sure I powered it on, but may have had a loose connection between the repeater unit and the HT.  That appeared to get bumped back into place on landing, as it worked after that point.

We headed east towards Elkhorn, then northeast to Blair.  No major problems were noted during the ascent as both beacons were transmitting reliably.  The fun started after burst.  We were stopped in Blair at a grocery store parking lot.  At one point, Wayne KE6DZD said something about the backup beacon's altitude being at eighty thousand feet.  Since the main payload was down in the 60s, I thought it had lost GPS lock or something.  A minute later he said it was at 3300 ft.  As we were talking about it, it became apparent that I misheard his first report - it was *eight* thousand, not *eighty* thousand.  Since the two reports were probably a minute apart, this was a fall speed of around 5000 ft/minute, which is roughly the terminal velocity of the backup beacon.......

So we knew that one fell off.  I wrote down the lat/lon/course/speed of the 3375' report for future reference.  We weren't too concerned about finding it - it wouldn't go far horizontally in the 30 seconds it would take to hit the ground.  We chased the other payload northeast from Blair to a couple miles north of Magnolia, IA.  We were fortunate that this area was less wooded than the hills adjacent to the flood plain and the payload had come down in an open field.  We picked it up and headed back towards Blair.

As we started off, I plugged the posit into APRSPlus and saw the location was just a few tens of yards off Hwy 75 southeast of Blair.  Doing some mental calculations and knowing the low-level wind reports, I figured we needed to search NNE of the last report up to about a quarter-mile at the most.

When we get to the location, we find the terrain is pretty wooded and rough.  However, there is a clearing at the top of a ridge that is roughly along the desired bearing from the last report.  We walk along it and search what we can of the ravines on either side without climbing down into them.  We get to the northeast end of the ridgeline and find we are 0.2 miles from the last report, close to the farthest distance I figure it has gone.  Two or three from the group climb down the ridge and take a quick look at the bottom, and eyeball the open field to the north.  No joy.  We also have our D7s along and tuned to the beacon, but nothing there either.  That wasn't unexpected, as something probably broke after a 60-mph impact.  After 45 minutes of searching, we call it off and head for lunch.  As dense as the woods and undergrowth was in places, we needed to look at some more data to refine our search area.

Further analysis shows that we were generally looking in the right area, but needed to emphasize our search at the north extent of where we looked.  The search area graphic shows the furthest extent of the likely landing, but it most likely landed south of the railroad tracks. We returned to the area on May 14 and looked for about two hours, emphasizing the area between the bluffs and the railroad tracks.  Still no luck, however.

We did get quite a few good still pictures (one attached showing the balloon remains _ the town in the lower center is Modale IA).  The tape recorded to completion, but I still haven't had time to look at it.

Search area for backup beacon

Update, January 2006:  A person working along the railroad tracks in the area spotted the payload and called me about it (my cell # and e-mail were on the beacon in permanent marker).  I was driving at the time and could not take a phone number, so I told the person to e-mail me his contact info.  It was another three weeks before I got the e-mail, but we did make contact again and I recovered the payload on 31 January

The payload was in very good shape.  A couple sides of it were faded from sun exposure, but the VX-2R works fine.  The LED flasher also still worked.  I have not yet tested the GPS unit, and the lithium-ion pack connected to it is probably ruined.  The payload was found right along the north side of the tracks to the east of our search zone above.  On the map above, it was found just west where the power line crosses the tracks.  From the verbal description I got the landing was at 41° 31.00' N, 96° 05.00' W  (click on link for Google map, location accurate to within +/- 0.02' lat and 0.07' lon).

NSTAR 05-B Flight Summary