Tactical to Practical

... History may be servitude,
History may be freedom....

-- T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets

I don't watch a lot of TV, but I will occasionally watch the History Channel. The shows about military and industrial history are sometimes fascinating, and recently there was a program in which Roger Daltrey re-enacted the privations of the early explorers of North America by cooking and eating a beaver. None of their programs seemed to have much to do with ballooning, however, so I was surprised to get a call in December from a producer at Edelman Productions regarding an appearance on "Tactical to Practical", a History Channel program that features various technologies as they've developed from military to civilian application. They were doing an episode on balloons, and wanted to include a segment on cluster ballooning.

I have had a number of experiences with TV production companies -- slashing and burning their way through the human experience in search of good television, or failing that, any kind of television. However, the segment producer, Lauren Williams, seemed to have done some research on ballooning, and also seemed to think that cluster ballooning was the most amazing form of ballooning, which was difficult to dispute. So, overcoming some misgivings, I agreed to do a flight for them.

Lauren Williams

Winter in Southern California is quite mild, but that doesn't mean that there isn't occasional rain and wind, or that the weather forecasters can agree on when the rain and wind will occur, even just a day beforehand. Coordinating a suitable day with fifteen of my crew, the TV folks, the helium suppliers and my friend Dean, whose front yard I would be taking off from, was a challenge. I rescheduled twice before choosing what looked like the best weather day -- February 1. It was Superbowl Sunday-- not a big hit with crew, although to their credit I was still able to find the required number of folks. Also, on a melancholy and slightly creepy note, it was the anniversary of the Space Shuttle Columbia crash.

We started at 5 AM. A light breeze came through, bouncing the balloons around a bit, but to my relief it calmed again.The crew did a great job of the infllating the balloons quickly, so that by dawn we had the cluster assembled. I was interviewed, and we let Hunter Ellis, the host of the show, get into my harness and sent him up on tether to shoot him reading some narration.


Then it was time for me to get into the harness, and have crew attach the rest of the balloons to me.






Sometimes people ask if flying this way scares me. Actually it's the inflation that scares me, wondering if the wind will suddenly pick up, or if someone will accidentally let a lot of balloons get away, or some of the helium tanks will turn out to be underfilled, or any number of things, more or less probable, that could ruin the whole flight. By the time I'm in my harness and ready to go, I'm overjoyed -- the scary part is over, from my perspective.

I spread my arms and grasped the last two big bunches of balloons, and then....