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O#10: Council Bluffs, Iowa
OAugust 22, 2004


Council Bluffs, Iowa is located on the state's western border. Local boosters call it "the Leading Edge of Iowa", as if on the verge of transformation into something fantastically modern and dynamic -- perhaps something like Omaha, its much larger neighbor located just across the Missouri River in Nebraska.


Iowa Western Community College is a two-year college located on the outskirts of Council Bluffs. IWCC has enjoyed great success and growth in recent years. There are over 4,000 students at IWCC, enrolled in both vocational/technical programs and programs preparing students for transfer to four-year schools. The modern, spacious campus features pleasant lawns and trees, and also fields of corn scattered around campus, in lieu of flowerbeds.
The school's athletic teams are called the Reivers. I was told that a reiver is a kind of pirate, but from Iowa.


Each year, the IWCC Foundation sponsors the Lighter-than-Air Balloon Fair, as a fundraiser for IWCC scholarship programs. In 2004 I was invited by Foundation Director Jo Kossow to do a cluster balloon flight at the Fair. Shirley Chambers, also with IWCC, helped coordinate my flight.

Shirley, John, Jo


Although it's out on the edge of farm country, IWCC is actually just inside the Omaha Class C airspace. This is fairly serious airspace, with jets going in and out of Eppley Field, the Omaha airport, and some nearby military airfields. It's somewhat unusual for hot-air balloons to fly in such airspace; for me to be there with my bunch a helium balloons would be highly irregular. However, Jo wanted me to fly at the Balloon Fair, and prevailed upon Rich Jaworski, the balloonmeister for the event, to try to get the necessary permission in a waiver from the FAA.

Rich, a hot-air balloonist for over thirty years, was skeptical. He asked if I could control my ascent and descent. Well, yes; or how do we explain the fact that I'm not a crispy critter on powerlines about ten times over by now? And could I fly level? Duh. After more questions of this kind, I finally had to point out that flying a cluster balloon is like flying a balloon, not like being shot out of a cannon -- I'm not sure if this got through to him, but we worked on some documentation to submit to the FAA, as well as a proposal on how to conduct the flight safely, and Rich sent it off.

Many weeks passed. Our initial request was refused, but we revised some things, and reapplied. Finally, somewhat to my surprise, I received permission to fly in the Class C. As we had proposed, I would be required to carry a transponder, and talk to ATC on the radio; also, I would be allowed to fly only if the wind direction was from the west, taking me away from Omaha.

Rich Jaworski


Unfortunately, winds for the weekend of the Balloon Fair were forecast to be from the east, heading towards Omaha. Ernie and I arrived in Council Bluffs and started preparing for the flight, but based on the forecasts, I doubted that I would be able to fly. Fortunately, Rich and event meteorologist Lou Billones were more astute, and predicted that although the surface winds would be from the east, the winds only a few hundred feet up would be much more out of the south, and that a few thousand feet up, the winds would be from the west, as desired. I'm from a part of the country where, due to the influence of the ocean, the forecasted winds aloft are not very reliable, but Rich seemed confident. He placed some last minute phone calls with the FAA and got permission for me to fly anyway, on the strength of that forecast.


The balloon launch site at IWCC is a sheltered, tree-lined field. There was a bit of wind out at the hotel, but arriving at the field at 4 AM, it was completely calm. The Cornhusker Corvette Club helped inflate the balloons for my flight, in addition to other volunteers that the Balloon Fair had recruited.


Cornhusker Corvette Club


The plan was for me to launch first, before the other balloons. At 7 AM I was in my harness and ready to go. The pre-flight weather briefing was still for slow eastbound winds down low, and slightly faster westbound winds up above, just as anticipated. Surface winds were predicted to be 6 to 8 knots through the morning, a reasonable landing speed for my basketless balloon.



The sun came over the trees, making the balloons seem to glow a dozen different colors. I was ready to fly!



And up I went.