Our first flight for 2011 was at the Nebraska ARRL Convention at the Lancaster Events Center on the east side of Lincoln. We paired up with the NASA Nebraska High Altitude Balloon project from UNO for this flight and put on a double launch for the convention attendees.

It was a little breezy that morning, with a high overcast and temps in the upper 30s. We were able to use a sheltered spot on the north side of the building, which let us fill our balloons with less difficulty. Both groups were trying for a near-simultaneous launch, but due to some equipment problems we chose not to hold any further in the gusty winds and NSTAR launched at 0929 CDT. NASA-NHAB launched a few minutes later.

We knew we had a somewhat long chase ahead of us, so we departed soon after the launch, driving on I-80 back to Omaha and east on 92 out of Council Bluffs. Everything was working well for us and the balloon was following its forecast path almost to the letter. As we were headed east, we noted that our 1000g balloon burst at 85,791 ft and 1055 CDT.

Not long afterwards, we saw that our -12 beacon was once again falling much faster than the main payload. We elected to continue chasing the main payload eastwards and would come back for the backup beacon afterwards. We didn’t quite plan the end of our chase well enough to see the landing, however. The landing was at 1140 CDT in an empty cornfield about 2 miles SSW of Massena, IA.

After picking up our main beacon, we determined that our backup beacon would have landed within 2-3 miles of the NASA-NHAB payloads. Due to the cell phone service in that part of Iowa, we had great difficulty making calls. We weren’t sure if they had located our payload, so we drove off to where we expected it landed.

We turned on to a gravel road on the north side of the section where we surmised it landed. We had a position at about 4300’ MSL, and we figured it would be in the section to the south and within a ¼ mile in the road. The first field we saw was soybean stubble and open but rolling, so some of the ground would be obscured from the road. So far we had not heard an APRS packet from the payload on the ground, nor could we hear the simplex repeater. I was rechecking the radios for open squelch and the computer for a recent packet, when Wayne says “what’s that in the field?”

Sure enough, it was our backup beacon, only a couple hundred feet off the road sitting out in the open. As we were looking for a gate in the fence, it transmitted its position. This was a good sign, meaning it hadn’t suffered a lot of damage on impact. Since there were no farmhouses around to determine an owner, we walked in and retrieve the beacon.

The stitching holding the carry strap to the side of the container had totally failed. In the future we will look for something with more solid construction and/or reinforce the attachment. The package appeared to have landed upside down, with the antennas and aluminum ground plane bent. On the main payload, the video camera stopped prior to launch for an unknown reason. Still photos were taken as expected. The simplex repeater also performed well, however, the timed announcements did not seem to follow their programmed settings. We were able to control the repeater with DTMF tones pretty well.

The backup beacon had a very short range after its hard landing due to the coax being severed on the SMA jumper between the radio and antenna.  It was basically transmitting through about a tenth of an inch of wire sticking out of the connector.