Through the gracious cooperation and involvement of world class balloonist Troy Bradley, we have a gas flight scheduled to launch next Friday night! This isn’t the gas *cluster* flight I’ve been talking about, but a gas flight that leads up to the cluster flight.
In preparation for my gas cluster ascension, I was very fortunate to connect with Troy, a world-recording holding gas balloonist. Among his accomplishments are the 58 world records in ballooning he has set. In the 1992 Chrysler Trans-Atlantic balloon race, Troy flew 3,318 miles, and became the first to fly a balloon from North America to Africa; he set the absolute world duration record for manned balloon flight at 144 hours 23 minutes [can you imagine flying that long--over six days--straight?]; Troy has set the AM-8 through AM-15 records for duration, distance and altitude; Troy won the first U.S. National Hot Air Team Championship, and he has participated in 7 Gordon Bennett Gas races, 6 America's Challenge Gas Balloon races-- and he won the 1998 America's Challenge Race. He has 4,600 PIC hours, and has flown in 45 States and 12 countries, flying over 11,000 passengers. Ok, this whole e-mail could be a list of his lighter-than-air accomplishments!
Isn’t this amazing, to have this flight, and this guy, coming out with his balloon? This is like taking up golf, and having Tiger Woods come to give you lessons. Oh, you’re starting to play basketball? Michael Jordan is willing to come by and give you some tips on your jump shot.
But, getting to the upcoming flight: Troy owns a 14,000 cu/ft gas system, which is now shipping from Albuquerque, New Mexico to us here in Raleigh, North Carolina. The gas is ordered, and scheduled for delivery on Friday. After the balloon arrives, Troy will be joining us for a flight scheduled for inflation late night on Friday, May 9th.
Your participation in that flight would be welcome.
This flight will allow me to test so many things. The intention is to fly in a standard basket hanging below the ‘large’ 14,000 cu/ft helium filled balloon, which will be providing the majority of the lift. In addition, I will attach two of my gas cluster cells to the gondola, providing some minor additional lift. (20-30 pounds)
This will allow me to:
- Test the inflation of two 8-foot, 268 cu/ft cluster balloons, inflating off of 219 cu/ft ‘K’ helium tanks. One balloon will be filled via an open-mouthed quick-fill hose, and the other will be filled using the micro-vent fill system.
- Test actual lift produced, compared to previous tests. (Calculations show net lift *should* be 13 pounds per balloon; last test, we observed only 9 pounds.)
- When taking the balloons to altitude, I can see what the 8-foot cluster balloons do at altitude. (e.g. do they burst?)
- Test the ‘micro vent’ on one of the balloons, to see how smoothly it vents gas, and the rate of gas venting / lift reduction
- Test to see if the balloons rigged with micro-vents leak
- Observe the rate at which the helium diffusions occurs through the chloroprene balloon membrane, and observe the rate of resulting loss of lift
- Pop one balloon! This system is approx 14,000 cu/ft. My cluster system will be approx 12,000 cu/ft. So, the overall displacement is not entirely dissimilar. By popping one balloon on this flight, while flying level, I can observe the resulting change in altitude, rate of descent, etc. Is it severe, or smooth? (I believe it will be severe.)
- Gain aeronautical experience flying gas, flying with a tremendously experienced gas pilot!
- Gain ground-school / theoretical knowledge of flying gas
- If everything works out right, - remove the ‘airborne heater’ restriction from my pilots license [For non-pilots: when getting a lighter-than-air license, one typically first gets a ‘Lighter than air, Free balloon’ rating, allowing a pilot to fly balloons with the restriction that the balloon must have an “airborne heater”—that is, a burner that burns some fuel (propane) to heat the air in the envelope, making the ‘hot air’ which defines a hot-air balloon. To legally fly standard gas balloons, you need to have this restriction removed. ]
- Verify that the gas provider really can deliver the gas when they promise; also, acquaint them with the delivery location and logistics
- Test the satellite tracking device, with remote observers tracking the flight on their home computers
- Fly in my local North Carolina area along with a very experienced gas pilot, to become more familiar with some of the flying area within gas range
- Build relationship with the drop-zone where we will be flying out of; ensure that it works ok to have 50-60 tanks of helium delivered there.
The launch location is to be Carolina Sky Sports, in Franklinton North Carolina. This is a skydiving facility, located approximately 20 miles north of Raleigh. (Between Franklington and Louisburg.) The owners of Carolina Sky Sports have graciously agreed to allow us to have the helium banks delivered to their facility, and launch from their airfield. (There are no skydives going on anywhere near the time of our flight.) This is an awesome facility, with a large skydive landing zone/field, paved runway, a number of jump-aircraft, and amazing personnel. It is also marked on the sectionals as an area with dropzone activities, and the local air traffic control guys are well familiar with this site.
Inflation and launch time:
We intend to inflate very late at night on Friday, May 9th. (e.g.: just before midnight.) Then, our launch will be shortly after, in the early pre-dawn hours of Saturday May 10th.
Flight profile and time:
Intention would be to fly comparatively low-altitudes (non-oxygen) through past dawn, with landing perhaps around 10:00am the next day (Saturday), before thermal activity gets too stirred up.
Of course, if we run out of land—i.e., we are approaching the coast of the Atlantic ocean—that would end our flight early.
I was unable to get a tube-trailer without spending a tremendous amount on delivery. Instead, Praxair will be delivering (48) 291 cu/ft “T” bottles, grouped into helium ‘banks’. They take the individual bottles, and assemble them into a bank of 12 cylinders. Attached to the valve on each ‘T’ bottle is a pigtail leading to a single header. So, you open each bottle, then open the single header, and fill the balloon until that bank is drained. Then, you move onto the next bank of 12 bottles, until the tanks are empty and the gas has been transferred to the balloon.
Airborne heater restriction:
If everything goes smoothly and to-plan, I hope to meet the following requirements and have the restriction removed:
FAR 61.105 Aeronautical knowledge
FAR 61.107 (b) (8) Flight proficiency
FAR 61.109 (h) (1) Aeronautical Experience
(1) at least 2 flights of 2 hours each (meaning we will need an intermediary landing.)
(ii) one flight performing Pilot In Command duties, with an authorized instructor. (So, this would be the flight after the intermediary landing, with me as PIC, along with Troy in the basket as the instructor)
(iii) one flight involving a controlled ascent to 3,000 feet above the launch site
N3027Z; 14,000 cubic foot Helium rated balloon; Certified Experimental; Spring actuated disk valve; rip deflation port; quick-fill (not a ‘netted’ balloon). Troy has actually set three world records in this balloon: Distance (Amarillo, Texas to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania – 1,200 miles); Duration (46 hours 50 minutes.) Doesn’t that duration record sounds more like an endurance record? Flying solo for nearly two days straight!
I have contacted the good controllers at the RDU airport and informed them of our flight plans. We intend to stay clear of the Class C airspace surrounding RDU. However, the controller in the RDU tower said it would be “no problem whatsoever” to fly through or above their airspace; they just requested we give them a call a couple of hours prior to flight, so they know we are in the area. (Isn’t that cool?) There are likely to be no normally scheduled commercial flights at that time, except perhaps the odd UPS or FedEx plane.
The day before the flight, I will send out a URL where you can track me in real-time from home; the track images are overlaid on Google Maps, so you can see the flight! Provided the equipment works, I will be sending up to 3 types of messages: ‘Ok’ just means I have just pressed the button, and I am flying fine; ‘Help’ means I am requesting non-emergency retrieval from my crew. Then there is the 911 beacon, which notifies search and rescue, and is only for life threatening emergencies where self-rescue options have been exhausted.
Crew and guests:
Guests at the inflation, and chase crew on the road, are welcome! In fact, if you would like to crew for the upcoming gas cluster flight, this would be an ideal time to become acquainted with the area and gas procedures; Please contact me if you would like to be present, so I make sure you receive the most up-to-date information. Please provide a contact phone number.
Thanks, and I will send out the tracking URL the day before the flight!