This flight was a dual launch, paired with the first flight of the Central Iowa Balloon Enthusiasts (CIBE). Our initial plan was to launch from the parking lot of the Adair-Casey High School between the two towns of the same name, but when we arrived we found the gates to the school grounds locked and no suitable site was found near by. We had a discussion on the radio on what to use in Adair as a substitute. As we headed back to town, one of the group spotted an open area adjacent to a cemetery north of town that looked suitable. We got everyone to the new launch site and began to set up. Jenny, daughter of Wayne KE6DZD, loaded her “Peep-O-Nauts” into the backup beacon for their ride to near-space.
The weather on this day was overcast and we noticed some fog patches as we drove on I-80 from Omaha to Adair. Surface winds were very light from the northwest with temps around 40.
As we were preparing to launch, a couple of vehicles pulled in behind ours. We thought maybe it was someone from Adair who had seen us, but instead it was some hunters from Minnesota who were also hams. They had seen all the vehicles with ham antennas plus the balloons and, in their words, “just had to stop to see what this was about”.
We launched the balloons simultaneously at 0827 CST (1427 UTC). For the early part of the flight, the balloons were separated by only a few hundred feet vertically and less than ¼ to ½ mile horizontally. I was hoping we’d have several photos of the CIBE balloon with NSTAR’s still camera, but the only ones where a balloon was visible was within the first couple of minutes.
The NSTAR payload showed evidence of a minor programming problem. During the first couple minutes of flight, the payload was to take one picture and send a position every 8 seconds or so, then every 30 seconds after that. However, the payload remained on the 8-sec interval throughout the flight. I had some concern for battery life, but the battery voltage telemetry indicated it was holding up fine. The camera, however, shot the entire 512 Mb card full before reaching burst.
We chased west to Atlantic and then south on US 71 as we were expecting the landing near 34 and 71 east of Red Oak, waiting just outside of Grant for the burst of our 1200g Kaymont balloon. This happened 76 minutes into the flight, at 94,964 ft.
Both balloons followed a similar track, but the CIBE balloon was coming down first. During the descent, we knew the balloon would come southwest until a few thousand feet AGL, then turn southeast. However, we were not sure if either balloon would make it south of US34 or west of US71. We stopped a mile or two north of the intersection to wait until the track became more clear, then headed east on US34 about a mile.
In this area, the overcast was fairly high and we were able to spot the CIBE parachute at about 3000 ft AGL and less than a mile away. Between the roads not cooperating and not wanting to lose position for the NSTAR landing, and we were unable to get in place to watch the CIBE landing directly as it went down behind a row of trees. We were, however, able to drive right past the landing site as it was only a few yards off a gravel road in a cornfield.
The NSTAR payload was now below 5000 ft and we could see it also. It landed much further into a field away from the road at 1025 CST (1625 UTC). Larry N0BKB made contact with the farmer who owned the field and secured permission for us to go retrieve it.
The payloads were undamaged and all were functional. The Peeps were none the worse for their trip to near space – I had thought that the decompression might cause them more trouble.
After the trip, we tried to find a spot in Villisca to eat but none were open yet. We headed for the buffet at Pizza Hut in Red Oak for a well-deserved lunch break.