August 19th, 2014 – Balloon Launch and Recovery
After many hours of getting our camera systems designed and tested, our high altitude weather balloon was ready to fly! With the last day of camp looming combined with some unexpected, off-shore wind patterns, we were down to our last launch window. We would have to do an evening flight, my first in 6 years of flying balloons.
Based on the best prediction models I could find, a flight at this time would ascend through a large south-south-west moving air mass so it would be critical to move our release point to the north-west. With the sun beginning to wane, I pulled off the road to the east of Stockton, into the edge of a recently harvest tomato field. My 10 year old son began preparing our tracking device as well as the two cameras we would be flying. The first was a GoPro and the second was a Sony with an altered bit of software, turning it into a time lapse camera. Each camera was pointed outwards from the vehicle, with a small ‘flying horse’ in the foreground. I hooked up our helium tank, secured the last of our recovery parachute lines, and began filling the balloon. Our vehicle had an total weight of 2 pounds, 1 ounce so I calculated a lift of about 3 pounds, 8 ounces would be appropriate. In a few minutes, the balloon was filled and ready to release. With a quick scan of the sky for low flying aircraft and power lines, we gave a symbolic countdown and with nervous hearts, released the balloon!
We immediately packed everything up into the truck and my my son riding shotgun, began picking up our tracking device signals. After an initial few thousand feet of flying to the east, the balloon began perfectly tracking our predicted flight pack, to the south and east. It continued its climb, at abut 900 feet per minute, for approximately 90 minutes to an altitude of about 81,000 feet. Here the atmospheric pressure is very low, causing the balloon to expand to its busting point. After another 90 minutes descending under a parachute, the vehicle landed in a forested area between Los Gatos and Watsonville, about 200 yards from a road.
After a few hours rest at home, I hit the road at 3am and drove the 90 minutes the point on the back road nearest I could guess to the tracking signal and the real hunt began. I hiked, crawled, scrambled, and climbed up and down a shrub choked and tree covered hill until, at about 5am, I spotted the parachute and vehicle high in a coastal live oak tree. Glad to have brought along an extendable branch trimmer, I shimmied up the tree until I could lean out with the trimmer and snag a dangling parachute line. A little tug, and the whole vehicle dropped out of the tree canopy and onto the ground. A 90 minute drive back to Walnut Creek, and everything was ready to present to the team at 8am!
Additional projects that we did at the Veterinary Camp are:
Scientific Drawing and Observation
Heart, Eye, Brain Dissections
Carbon Dioxide and Oxygen Experiments
Vision, Depth Perception, Taste, and Sound
Balloon Flight Vehicles – from Quadcopter at 400′