Ballooning Commission (CIA)
|Dave Bair Captures BSOPP Long jump Trophy|
|Saturday, 18 February 2012 19:21|
Nearly every year, the pilots of the Ballooning Society of Pikes Peak (BSOPP) in Colorado Springs, CO assemble a â€ślong jumpâ€ť flight. In fact, we even have a trophy we award the pilot who flies the longest distance every year.
In January, 2012, this flight took place with three balloons â€“ myself (Dave), Nolan Schuler, and Chuck Danley. We were all flying 90k balloons, so it should be equal, right? The three of us carried very different amounts of fuel. Nolan carried his standard 30 gallons in his Aerostar RX-8, Chuck carried 45 in his Cameron O-90 and I carried 55 in my Cameron V-90. I have the most hours on my balloon, so I needed more fuel to be fair. Thatâ€™s my story and Iâ€™m sticking to it.
To prepare for the flight, we ran hysplit trajectories and ran plots four hours long at about 8,000ft, 11,000ft, and 14,000ft. This gives us a great idea what the flight speed and direction will be, and it helps us choose the best altitude to gain the most distance. If you are not familiar with the hysplit from NOAA â€“ I highly recommend you check it out.
Our next preparation step is an airspace check. We take our sectionals out and plot range circles on the map at 20 mile intervals to 140 miles. (Might as well be optimistic, eh?) This is a great exercise for students, private and commercial pilots alike. It reminds us what all those areas really mean and how to deal with them. On our flight trajectory, we had Class C, Alert Areas, a MOA, and two Restricted Areas. Great time to make a crib sheet of all the right frequencies and restrictions. In addition, I called Denver Center and asked them the activity level for each of these areas. There wasnâ€™t any planned and I let them know we were putting three balloons in the air. One of the controllers said he would watch the tracker online during the flight.
We launched at about eight knots. I launched right at sunrise to get the most out of the day and ascended to altitude right away. We determined the best height was forecast to be about 12,000 feet, and it took me about 20 minutes to get there. Some of you may be thinking that is really fast, but remember we started at just over 6,000ft MSL.
At altitude, I began all my routine flight checks and monitoring fuel consumption. I have a competition map board and I write the times tanks run dry and I note my position, altitude and speed about every 20 minutes to plot forecasts. After about an hour, I did my first round of exercises and I dug into my emergency survival kit (a coke and a snickers bar).
The 12,000 foot winds were not as fast as forecast, so I bumped it up to nearly 14,000 for a little while to gain some distance. Maximum speed was 68mph and the temperature was about 10F. I stayed at altitude (about 12,000) for most of the flight and began my descent when I estimated I had 45 minutes of fuel left.
I was approaching the river valley of La Junta, CO and I listened intently to the La Junta ASOS for ground wind information. The airport was reporting 7-8 knots for the last 30 minutes, so I was anticipating a stand-up landing along the river. It takes a really long time to drop from 12,000ft to 2,500ft. Even letting the balloon cool without burning, it took about 15 minutes to get anywhere near the ground. I was able to get the balloon to fall about 1000fpm at one point, but it was so cold and I was so light it was a struggle.
Based on the ground wind being reported, I overflew the river valley out into the snow-covered desert, expecting a turn back to the highway and river. The airport was consistently reporting the same windâ€¦I was all set! In fact, during my descent my crew radioed and said they had me on the online tracker and knew just where to goâ€¦they were on the ball. When I got down to ground level, the wind turned around and I was headed out into the middle of nowhere, very slowly. There was not a road in sight for miles, and a MOA just a little distance away. Low fuel, no roads, low windâ€¦high stress. As I was considering my options (land and carry out being one of them), I received a text message from a friend in Austin, TX â€“ Tim Baggett. Any of you who know Tim know he is one of the best guys to have on your team. He had been watching the tracker all morning and suggested I go back up to 300ft AGL and I would get the wind I wanted. He was rightâ€¦there was a whopping 3 knot wind going toward the freeway. He had looked at the RUC forecast for the areaâ€¦.thanks Tim!
My chase team had caught up with me by then (three hours after launch) and found a ranch off the freeway. They gained landowner permission and waited at the ranch, hoping I could get that far. The owner advised I land near the house as the snow was several feet deep. Thanks for the advice!
The wind gods showed me favor and I was able to drive the balloon right to the ranch house where the crew was waiting. Landing was at 2-3 knots and we laid it down in the snow. All in, I flew 101 miles from launch to landing, in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Their crews retrieved all three balloons and we met at a prearranged park for a great tailgate and swapped all our stories.
This is the longest hot air flight I have done in my short career as a pilot. It was a real joy to employ all the weather forecasting, map reading and pilot practice they tell you about in ground school. Now to go get my trophy from last yearâ€™s winner!
|Last Updated on Saturday, 19 January 2013 13:21|