WeÕre going to fast-forward a little bit and jump into the questions and suggestions that have been coming in. For those of you who are experts the field, please do speak up when you disagree; it will make for a safer flight, and contribute to our ballooning community!
Now, to attack the questions:
Q: ŌIs this to be under FAR Part 103, or are you getting an Experimental A/W [airworthiness] certificate?Õ
A: I intend for this flight to be under CFR Part 103; requirements of Part 103 are addressed section-by-section in a following communiquˇ.
Q: ŌDid you have to get the "with airborne heater" annotation removed from your FAA license for the cluster flight, or are you doing this via the ultralight route?Õ
Q: ŌHave you had your "airborne heater" limitation removed from your LTA license? i.e. - are you legal to fly gas?Õ
A: I have not had the airborne heater restriction removed yet, though I am working to have that restriction removed, and also gain some aeronautical experience with gas, before this cluster flight. However, as a Part 103 flight, my entire pilot certificate, with restrictions, should be moot. IÕm not flying as a Part 91 pilot, but rather under Part 103: ultralight.
Q: ŌWhy are you using helium (a non-renewable resource) in a closed cell system?Õ
A: I am excited about using other lifting agents, but helium is the most stable for this initial flight. I am interested in using hydrogen, perhaps in a later flight. (The Hindenchair. I'm totally trademarking that.) Hydrogen has great lifting properties; and a great price! But, IÕm not hydrogen qualified or trained. IÕm also not sure about static developing from the balloons rubbing against one another. Also, IÕm relying on 20 or so volunteers to help me inflate the system, and having that many untrained people handling the other gasses seems like a bad idea.
IÕm not even considering ammonia -- the lift isnÕt comparable, IÕd need a TON of balloons, and it seems to be a very nasty gas to work with-- again, especially with a big crew helping inflate all the individual cells. For this inflation, helium provides great lift, and is inert/non-flammable.
Q: Why do you need so many crew? For show?
A: I anticipate needing a lot of people because of the quantity of individual cells to fill. Even if it only took 5 minutes for me to fill a cell, multiply that by 55 cells, and by the time the final balloon was ready, the initial cells would have already lost lift due to gas escaping through the envelope. Plus, I would be there all night!
Q: Will you be using any APRS tracking during the flight?
A: I attended Keith SpraulÕs session at the BFA convention, but I havenÕt had any experience. What I have done is purchase a SPOT Satellite Personal Tracker. This device didnÕt come highly recommended by Keith for hot-air balloon and chase, but he did like it for gas. I think it is cool consumer-ready / turn-key tracking system. The device will allow everyone who is far away to track the flight easily via the web and google maps in near-realtime. It also has ŌhelpÕ and ŌPanic/911Õ functionality; the first will send a pre-defined message to my friends list, the second will summon emergency rescue services, providing them my location. The device is $150 to buy, but then has a monthly cost, with a 12-month minimum. I donÕt think it will help my chase crew much, because they may not have internet in their chase vehicle. (They *might*, using iPhone browser for example, if we are in areas with cell service. But, no guarantees there.) I will send out info on tracking me
by this service closer to flight time.
Q: Have you contacted and communicated with John Ninomiya:
A: Yes. Point blank, he does not advise on other pilotÕs ballooning projects.
Q: Have you burst a sample [balloon] to see how that 268 cubic foot figure relates to one flying at altitude?
A: During test inflation, using three eight-foot balloons, and several four & five foot balloons, I only had sufficient lift for the gondola itself. It was a warm day, and my eight foot balloons were only yielding nine pounds of lift. I wish I had popped one of the balloons while the gondola was at the end of its tether, to see if the system dropped like a rock, or if it entered a gentle descent. But, I did not try this. It would have been a good idea, to pop one while the gondola was high.
Another burst test that I would like to do, but probably wonÕt be able to do, is pump metered air into the balloon until it bursts. For flight, IÕm pumping in 219 feet into a 268 envelope. Could I pump in 280? 300? I donÕt know, and I donÕt think I will be able to test. I donÕt have a meterering tool. The balloons are also very expensive to burst.
Another test I would love to do is to fill the balloon with 219 and take it up with me in an standard hot air or gas balloon. I would like to know how much it expands, if it bursts, and the rate at which lift falls off as we ascend.
Q: What will your gross weight be?
A: The gondola is 30 pounds. The envelopes/balloons are 2 pounds each, or 110 pounds total. (Will verify when they arrive. My test ones blew to pieces when they popped, as I dragged them through trees.) I am in the middle of changing the cluster configuration because the steel cables I intended to use fail when put under heavy load. So, I need new weight measurements on the envelope restraints/straps/load ŌtapesÕ. But, this should be nominal-- a couple pounds. Carabineers contribute a little. Ballast tanks (light plastic water tanks) contribute a little. Dropline, radios, FlyTec, gps, knife/Leatherman, cutting tool, pilot restraint system-- all these contribute a couple pounds.
All told, the base system will push, but not exceed, 155 pounds. Add pilot, clothing, gps/tracking/radios/communicate/tools and ŌfuelÕ (ballast) and I anticipate approx 495 pounds. This will be refined as I restructure the cluster, weigh the individual envelopes, and replace the steel cables with straps/webbing/rope. My scratch-pad calculations are attached in a spreadsheet.
Q: 11,000 cubic feet of helium or hydrogen is a lot of gas to buy for a short flight. How much DO you weigh?
A: About 185, but I swear IÕm laying off the candy leading up to this flight. I have to pay to lift everything, and anything I can do without, I want to leave behind! But, more to your point-- IÕm flying a lot of gas because IÕm flying a lot of ballast-- to try to make it a long flight.
Q: Can you tell me about your release mechanism? Do you plan to haul in each balloon to deflate it or cut the cord and let it fly?
A: Recommendations? I could pop them, though it would pain me to do so. Releasing them sounds fun, but it is littering a lot of balloons. Released balloons that size could also pose a risk to other aircraft. (ŅDerelict balloonsÓ, as described last communiquˇ.) I canÕt really give them away to crew or bystanders-- they are too big to practically move around. (You canÕt put them in the car and drive home.) Also, they are so big that anyone carrying them can easily drag them into power lines. Seems unreasonable, but I tried to get balloons home after my test, and it was impossible, without dragging them under/through trees and lines.
Q: What other ballast system do you plan to use.
A: Water or fine sand. Undecided. Recommendations? Fine sand would be more dense.
Q: Are you taking an Oxygen tank along.
A: I would like to take one for emergency use, but I havenÕt purchased a system yet. Ideally I could borrow someones small aviation oxygen tank.
It isnÕt likely that, at any altitude I will achieve, I will actually need oxygen. I know what the Part 135.89 regulations say: between 10,000 and 12,000 feet, after 30 minutes. Over 12,000: continuous. My stress level will likely be high, but my exertion will be at a minimum (IÕm sitting down) and IÕm a relatively young and healthy non-smoker, which combine lends to a lower risk of hypoxia.
Do you have recommendations on a system?
IÕm leaning towards the 6cu/ft, 3.4 pound, 14inch high system from http://www.aerox.com/
Q: What is your intended flight altitude.
A: As yet uncalculated; I donÕt have clear formulas relating to how lift will go with altitude. There are many factors interacting factors. IÕd love to be just short of Class A, very near 18,000 feet. However, I think this altitude not at all likely.
Suggestions to date:
Suggestion/comment: ŌIf at all possible, do at least a little tethered flying before you free fly.Õ
Reply: Great idea. I plan on tethering up just a few feet, and then practice cutting away a single cell/envelope/balloon to see what happens. The balloon will be tethered to the earth by a line separate from the one I cut, so it will not be lost, and we will return it to the system after the test. (Thanks to Tom Tomessetti for this suggestion.) This will also test to make sure the balloons I cut away actually separate from the cluster! Provided this test goes well from 5 feet off the ground, I hope to tether to 50feet and try again. This is essentially intended to help me understand what a 219 cubic foot ŌventÕ of helium feels like.
Suggestion/ comment: ŌInflation is VERY time-consuming unless well planned.Õ
Suggestion/comment: John [Ninomiya] has a whole manifold/parallel-inflation scheme. Plan the inflation carefully. It can take a lot longer than intuition might suggest which can wildly throw off your flight planning by delaying your departure by hours.
Reply: IÕm doing what I can! I intend for a 4am meet time, with 10 separate inflation teams. Each team has a rapid-fill inflation hose, and a series of balloons and tanks. If each team fills 5 balloons, at 10 minutes each, basic inflation is at least an hour. This time is likely to at least double when counting the fact that we have to assemble the cluster / attach it to the gondola.
Suggestion/comment: Contact John Ninomiya. He is a really friendly, nice, smart guy with experience in this field.
Reply: John Ninomiya does not advise on other peopleÕs ballooning projects.
Suggestion/comment: Make SURE you can cut strings, ONE BALLOON AT A TIME..
Reply: You know, I just donÕt have a way of doing this worked out. If I have 55 balloons individually tied off, that means IÕve got 55 lines coming to the gondola-- and these will be a bloody tangled mess. If I cut one, the might not go anywhere-- if the lines are twisted and tangled. I have a separate Communiquˇ on cluster design/structure that talks about being about to cut away the top balloons individually, or cut away balloons in layers. More on that later.
Suggestion/comment: ŌGo out SLOW, I saw John go out way too fast once, he was not happy.Õ
Reply: Ok, good idea. IÕve watched JohnÕs videos, and he doesnÕt pop up with a steep ascent. Though, having not flown gas before, IÕm not sure exactly the excess lift to go for to get a mild ascent rate.
Suggestion/comment: Make DARN SURE that your direction of travel has lots of open spaces, it takes a lot longer to land one of those than a hot air balloon.
Reply: Ok, IÕm hoping for giant open fields. WeÕre a tobacco state; I do not want to drag through crops, but better to buy a farmer a couple of bushels than to drag through trees. I hope for that big open land, with chase crew ready to help with the drop line and put weight on the gondola at landing. HereÕs hoping!
Suggestion/comment: BE CAREFUL
Reply: I hope to be, with your input!
Thank you everyone! Bring on corrections or comments!
Jonathan R. Trappe