a glob of nerd­ish­ness

Lost the first balloon

published by natevw on Subscribe

Two weekends ago we experienced a hull loss accident with our big green balloon. I was flying in too strong of wind, and it ripped the balloon off right at the neck.

Crashed cage and all that's left of the balloon

The lens I was lifting was all but sticking out of its under-provisioned crash cage and did not survive impact. The camera body and attached GPS are still working. It's unnerving to follow 1000ft of kite string out of the sagebrush and into the edge of a residential area. Very fortunately it came down over an empty cul-de-sac and not over somebody's car or backyard barbecue party. Important lesson learned: yes these big balloons can and may pop — plan your flight accordingly. And for wind, bring a kite.

I debated whether to give up the project. Replacing the airship costs a bit less than the helium lost if it turns to shreds, but ballooning overall is less cheap than I anticipated. Maybe I should pay upfront for an RC plane system with lower recurring cost, or simply put the whole idea to rest. No — I'm going to keep pressing forward using all I've learned so far. These days I have precious few hobbies that lure me outside, with family and friends, into the Columbia Basin's great scenery.

Here are some pictures from our latest (and for now, last) flight:

Onlookers on the ground during balloon launch Windy view of Candy and Red mountains on the horizon Old construction equipment and new houses along the top of "Little Badger Mountain"

Besides the wind, I also made the mistake of setting the lens to manual focus before launching it. My intentions were fuzzy: I didn't want the camera trying to re-focus for me, but it wouldn't have anyway and setting it to manual made it easier to bump out (and in and back out…) of focus.

Housing divisions, the Yakima delta and the Columbia river in the distance Blurry shot of string, houses and sagebrush below camera Blurry shot of Yakima and Columbia rivers Last blurry shot before camera stopped working, a while before crash

The last picture there is the last one on the card. As far as I can tell from the various timestamps (and relative perspective), the camera actually stopped about ten minutes before it dropped. This isn't entirely surprising, as the strong wind was starting to make things wild enough that I saw the camera swing through a few complete loops around the almost-horizontal string. The power of just a stiff evening breeze is amazing — I now better understand why they shut down the generator turbines outside of town when a storm brings truly violent winds!

Rather than replace the whole kit, I've ordered a replacement balloon from Ballons Direct. They're not the only source, e.g. Balloonplace.com has them cheaper albeit with slightly higher shipping that cuts into the discount.

The second balloon should arrive late this week. My next goal is to start stitching together actual maps using the photos from each fully successful flight – stable platform, correct exposure, solid focus, and interesting scenery.

When I'm confident in that, I want to see if the balloon can serve a more practical purpose. Up the Yakima Valley I have friends with fields and orchards and vineyards. I'm interested in what they could do with a combination of affordable imagery and usable software.

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