Celebration II

December 30, 1997

Six months later, I was back in Temecula California for my next helium balloon adventure. My objective for this flight was to continue refining my flying technique with the synthetic latex balloons. Although my last flight had been surprising in many ways, I felt that I could control the balloon cluster well enough to fly safely in Temecula, a suburban/rural area where many hot-air balloonists fly.

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We set up again in the front yard of Dean Ekdahl, a local hot-air balloonist who lived east of Temecula. Ernie Hartt was my crew chief, and a number of our hot-air balloonist friends came out to help.

We staged the inflated balloons onto sandbags. It was a sunny California winter day, with a bit of high overcast.
The crew attached the balloons to my harness and I got in.
We removed ballast bags from the harness, until the balloons pulled me up firmly to the end of my tie-down.
I had redesigned my riser system, the straps to which the balloons were secured, so that instead of being in held in distinct layers, my 44 balloons were pulled into one mass -- like a bunch of huge toy balloons. I pulled the pin on my quick-release....
...and in a silent rush, my balloons pulled me up into the sky.
My vario showed me ascending at a bit under 400 feet per minute. That's a decent rate of climb in a hot-air balloon, requiring much burning of propane, but with the helium balloons it was magically silent.
The wind carried me to the north. I saw an airplane pass far below me, out on the outskirts of the new subdivision.

As I approached 5500 ft above sea level (about 4000 feet above the ground at launch) I decided it was time to level out. Having learned my lesson about the reliability of pellet guns, I pulled down a balloon and burst it with a knife. My rate of climb dropped but did not level out, so I burst another, which was enough to put me in level flight.

I continued to drift slowly north. To my west, I could see the outlying parts of Temecula, sparsely populated fields giving way to the newer subdivisions, and beyond that, the town of Temecula itself, at the base of the pass where I-15 comes up from San Diego.
I talked to Ernie on the radio to confirm that crew was following in the truck. To the North, I could see more new houses in the neighboring cities of Murrieta and Winchester, and beyond that, Lake Elsinore.
After around 50 minutes in the air, I reached the small French Valley Airport. I decided that it was time to start heading down. Bursting a balloon took me down into a wind layer that was more westbound, pushing me toward the north end of Murrieta.

I leveled out a four or five hundred feet by dropping some water ballast, and began looking for a place to land. I was still on the outskirts of Murrieta, in an area with some houses, but a generous number of open fields and empty lots.

Along my current flight path, I could a nice-looking open field just past some houses. I called Ernie on the radio and he told me they could see me and were heading toward me, coming up on a back road from the south.
I was currently in a slow descent, but would overshoot the field that I wanted to land in. I pulled down another balloon to burst.
As I cleared the last of the houses, I burst the balloon, and began descendingly more sharply into the field beyond. I could see crew getting out of the truck and running toward me. I dropped a little ballast to slow my descent.
There were some trees on the edge of the field that I seemed to be at some risk of hitting. To be safe, when I was at about fifty feet I threw my dropline down to the crew.
They pulled me over a short distance onto the grass to a safe landing.
Before we put the equipment away we played for a bit, with members of the crew going up on tether. A man from the local radio station drove up and put me on the air with the morning DJ's. They had been receiving calls about the "balloon man" for the past half hour.

Celebration Two

Crew Chief: Ernie Hartt

Crew (left to right): Phil Brandt, Jerry Sebby, Doug Spencer, Ernie Hartt, Angela Ekdahl, John Ninomiya, Dean Ekdahl, Kim Lynch (not pictured)

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