This particular launch gave us some more trouble than usual for launch site selection. In the ten days prior to the flight, the forecasted direction was anywhere from ENE to SW but a relatively short distance. Normally that settles down a few days prior to launch, but this time quite a bit of uncertainty remained, especially for the distance away from launch. Since we were mostly looking at directions from southeast to southwest and distances of 8-25 miles, we located a new launch site in Weeping Water and decided on that.
The morning of our flight was pretty foggy, with several areas near the rivers having visibility less than 1/8 of a mile. I contacted Wayne on the area repeater enroute and he reported from the launch site that the sky was relatively clear there. While it's not really a problem for us to launch in fog, it does tend to make everything more damp and slippery to handle.
When I arrived Chuck KD0BWI was also there and Kurt KC0HMI arrived a little later with his son Nate. Our setup and fill proceeded normally. A couple of cars drive through the park and watched us for a little while - one stopped and I gave them an NSTAR card. We got our Kaymont 1000g balloon launched a little early at 0823 CDT (1323 UTC).
Our forecasted landing was less than 20 miles away, so we were in no great hurry to pack up and leave. After launch, we went back west to Hwy 50 and then south to a gas station on the north edge of Syracuse to await burst. The fog slowly lifted into a stratus and then a stratocumulus layer while we waited, which unfortunately kept us from spotting the balloon while in flight. We spent our time eating a little breakfast and drinking coffee while the balloon leisurely ascended and made several loops off to the south of us. We had some distant simplex repeater contacts (the repeater worked very well once again), including KC0MWM from Grand Island and K9KK in Norman OK. We also heard what we suspect is an Echolink or IRLP output from the Minnesota area, judging from the traffic we heard. I don't think that node's input is on 446.30, as we did not seem to get into the node.
Our 1000g balloon finally gave out after almost two hours of ascent at 1021 CDT (1321 UTC). At just over 750 ft/min average ascent rate, this was one of our slower ascents.
We headed south a few miles and stopped again to see where the landing was going to be. Initially I estimated it would be east of Hwy 50 by about a mile, but the descent was also slower than expected and we drifted west of 50 on the easterly low-level winds. Landing occurred in the middle of a section just after 1100 CDT (1600 UTC).
There was a farmhouse immediately east of the landing site and we got permission to enter the field to look for the payloads. We did not see exactly where the landing was but had continuing transmissions from the payload. I set the coordinates in the GPS, grabbed a HT, and Chuck and I set off across the soybean field to the landing site about a quarter-mile away.
Fortunately it was soybeans instead of corn, so I figured the payload would be easy to spot. We crested a ridge and could see a line of trees with a cornfield behind it. I called to Chuck that the landing site should be near the trees or just beyond into the corn.
As we got closer to the trees a bit of color in the top caught my eye – the parachute. Dang it, we had landed in trees again. After almost nine years of no tree landings, we had our second in the last three flights. I got closer and examined what we faced.
In fact, we had landed in three different trees. The parachute was in one tree, the balloon remnants and main payload were in a second, and the backup payload in the third. The trees they were in were 6-8” in diameter and offered no branches for climbing with ordinary shoes. I called back to Wayne and told him to bring his extension pole to help get the payloads out.
Wayne arrived shortly and began assembling the pole. It's mainly used for putting his Christmas lights up, and has been a good-luck charm for us – we had needed it only once in the 2-3 years we brought it along. But here we were with our second opportunity to put it to use.
With the pole at full extension, we could not reach the payloads. As I was starting to think “chain saw” as a solution, Wayne started yanking on one of the sturdier branches of the tree with the backup payload. Of course – let's see if we can shake the payloads out. The tree was pretty tall and thin, so it readily flexed back and forth. Wayne shook loose the backup payload and it was now in reach of the hook at the end of the pole. After that, it was simply a matter of pulling the works out of the tree (except for the line to the balloon – that broke and the balloon is still in the tree). About an hour after the landing we were back in our vehicles and headed home.
Our camera photos were not the best on ascent – lots of haze due to the low-level moisture and the lower sun angle this time of year. The descent photos were better as the payload tended to look more directly down at times. I was hoping for photos just prior to landing in the trees, but the camera got cold-soaked at high altitude and condensation formed on the lens during the lowest two thousand feet of the flight. The simplex repeater was heard in Norman at S9+20 using 600 mW into a rubber duck at the transmit end and a 10-element horizontal beam and preamp for the receiver. The cross-polarization doubtlessly caused significant signal loss, but was somewhat offset by the preamp. Even so, getting an S9+ signal with 600mW on 70cm over a distance of 380 miles is pretty good.
Google Map of flight track: