Oklahoma!

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#1: Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
August 10, 2002
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Balloon Fest is an annual hot-air balloon event held in support of the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.  The event takes place at the Wiley Post Airport on the west side of Oklahoma City.  This year, Balloon Fest director Dawn Burroughs and balloonmeister Frank Capps helped arrange for me to fly at Balloon Fest.  They secured permission from the airport management.  They also ran the idea past local aviation officials, who said they would not look too closely at the issue of whether the west side of Oklahoma City is a densely populated area (since I can only legally fly with my helium balloons in areas that are not densely populated).  Thus reassured, I packed my harness and my box of balloons, and headed for Oklahoma.

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As Rogers and Hammerstein fans know, Oklahoma is where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.  Friday evening was too windy to do the inflation, so my flight was pushed back to Saturday morning. 

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Fred Thompson, who is in charge of field operations at the airport, had very kindly arranged for the use of a hangar -- which was a good thing, because the wind did come up again before dawn, while we were inflating the balloons.  Fortunately Phil Stickel, the Balloon Fest meteorologist was on hand to tell me he thought it was just some outflow from some thunderstorms well to the east, and that it would stop.  I had the crew continue to inflate the balloons.  By the time the sun was rising, the air was calm.

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The crew began attaching the balloons to me.  I felt lighter and lighter, until my feet were just barely touching the ground.

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The balloon festival was on the other side of the airport from the hangars....

So I had the crew tether me to the back of my truck....

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And we were escorted across the runways to the launch area.

 

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The festival announcers were announcing my flight to the crowd -- I was referred to as the "Helium Guy", since no one in Oklahoma seemed to be able to pronounce my last name. 

By way of background, they announced that Helium Guy was planning to fly at every balloon festival in the United States.

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That morning, the hot-air balloons were launching outside the airport and trying to manuever to a target near where I was to launch.  So, I needed to be off quickly to get out of their way.  Consulting with my crew chief, Ernie, I adjusted my ballast and got ready to launch.

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And off I went.  The spectators offered a cheer for Helium Guy, and I waved to them.

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The wind carried me off at a brisk pace.  It was wonderful to fly over a city -- or at least the non-densely-populated portion of one.  For a while, I just let the balloons carry me higher and higher, enjoying the sights. 

At a thousand feet, I had a nice view of two of OKC's  lakes, Lake Hefner and Lake Overholser. 

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The wind direction was not what had been predicted.  Instead of taking me to the north and west, out of the city,  the higher winds were moving slowly to the east, toward the downtown area.  I stayed up there until it was obvious that I was headed for places where there was nowhere to land, then began descending.

Unfortunately, the winds lower down were heading south in the general direction of Oklahoma City's other airport, Will Rogers -- the one with the jet airliners.   So, although the airport was still some miles away, I started thinking about where I would land. 

My crew chief Ernie and two festival volunteers, Roger and Candy, followed me south across town.  According to my GPS, I was moving at a brisk 20 mph.   Occasionally, I heard people shouting hello from the ground.  I waved to them, although I was probably too high for them to see.

 

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The wind directions did not change, and I could not go really high, since the airspace above was controlled by the Will Rogers airport.   I descended some more and began looking around for fields large enough to put down in.   After a time, I was crossing Interstate 40, heading south.

 

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Just past the interstate, I could see a few undeveloped fields in an industrial area.  I burst some balloons to drop in to a few hundred feet up, then dropped ballast to level out.  As soon as I cleared some big high-tension lines, I burst several balloons.  I dropped in smartly and landed lightly on my feet in a grassy field.

Unfortunately, the gate into the field was locked.  After a few minutes my crew found a way in, and we began deflating the balloons.  Ernie had remembered to save me a doughnut for breakfast.

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Although I had hoped for a leisurely float out into the countryside (where the corn is as high as an elephant's eye, etc.), the flight as it turned out was unusual and challenging, a test of my ability to fly my wonderful aircraft to a safe landing in a developed (though not densely populated) area of a city.

 

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What a beautiful morning!  What more could a Helium Guy ask for? 

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Celebration X

Crew Chief: Ernie Hartt
Special Thanks to:

Dawn Burroughs, Director, Balloon Fest
Frank Capps ( Aerosport Balloons), Balloonmeister
Sheri Admire, Volunteer Coordinator, Balloon Fest
Fred Thompson, Field Operations Leader, Wiley Post Airport
Balloon Fest Volunteers

 

 

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