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Millwood, VA

October 21, 2006



Long Branch is an historic house and farm located near the town of Millwood, Virginia in the Shenandoah Valley. Built around 1805, the house sits on a hill overlooking 400 acres of rolling green pastures. Once a working plantation, today Long Branch is a museum and home for retired racehorses. A non-profit foundation now owns the property, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.



The Shenandoah Valley Hot-Air Balloon and Wine Festival takes place at Long Branch in October, with proceeds supporting Long Branch. I was originally invited to do a cluster balloon flight there in 2005, but weather did not cooperate. However, Long Branch Executive Director Jodie Yarrison-Popio and Balloonmeister Marsha Treacy invited me back for another try in 2006. Roland Escher drove out from Washington D.C. to help out as my crew chief.



This year, weather for my Saturday afternoon flight was forecast to be sunny and not too windy -- perfect for ballooning. The one issue was the wind direction, which was forecast to be from the west, later shifing to the south and southeast. A wind from the west would take the balloons over the Shenedoah River and the wooded ridge running along the east side of the valley. On the other side of the ridge we would enter the ADIZ, the area surrounding Washington D.C. where aviation is restricted.


What would happen next, I was told, would involve flashing red and green ground-based warning lasers, followed by F-16's. I wasn't sure how something going 1500 mph would intercept something going 10 or 15 mph, and I really didn't want to find out. Naturally, all the balloonists were hoping the wind would shift to the south early, so that we'd have an uneventful flight up to the north.



We began inflating my balloons at 2:30 in the wind shelter of the shop building at Long Branch. In addition to volunteers from the festival, a number of hot-air balloonists and crew showed up to lend a hand. The wind was coming from the southwest, more or less, although conditions were lightly thermic and there would be occasional small gusts from other directions. I crossed my fingers that it would swing around to the south.

We finished inflating and rigging the cluster by about 4:15. Roland and my crew volunteers walked up the hill up to the mansion, There was a good-sized crowd there waiting for the hot-air balloons to launch.





Jan Miller in the Owl and the Pussycat balloon had kindly agreed to take off just before me to do a little photography. Roland and I fiddled with my ballast for a while to get me to the appropriate lightness. I saw a toy balloon up in the sky -- it seemed to be heading north as it rose, which I hoped meant that the desried wind shift was occurring.

We signalled to Jan. He lifted off, and a few seconds later I followed him up. The crowd cheered as we floated away over Long Branch.








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