2009 America’s Challenge Gas Balloon Race – by Brian Critelli
Our old balloon “The Yellow Beast” however did not stay at home, it was used by Linda Ellis and Daniel Fancoeur. So our trip included double of everything. Our first two days involved meeting with the other team to deliver the balloon and to make sure they understood how to assemble and operate this balloon. We had only Friday to relax and prepare for a Saturday launch. They fortunately had Tim Baggett as their crew chief. He had helped assemble their system in the past. So their inflation was smooth.
In any ballooning activity weather is a significant factor. When we arrived on Wednesday the wind was blowing over 40 mph.
We were told the winds at the top of Sandia Crest were blowing over 100 mph. They did not know how much over 100 mph because their wind speed indicator is limited to two digits so it was only reading 99 miles per hour. Our weatherman had told us he felt we would be launching on Saturday. The winds on the field were forecast to die off to 8-10 mph that evening. We were also told if we did not launch for some reason we more than likely would not launch at all due to approaching weather systems. During our fiesta weather briefing we were told to keep looking forward and back because the bad weather would be in front and in back of us. If the winds forecast held we would be somewhere near Virginia or North Carolina in about 2.5 days.
Here is what we were looking at:
generally use three altitude levels when we are planning
for our flight. As you can see we could take three
feet agl, 9,000 feet agl and 12,000 feet agl.
We can not go higher than 18,000 feet due to
Each of the larger markers on each line represent
24 hours. So you can see we were looking at 48 hours to
the Atlantic Ocean.
The wind speed for the middle and high tracks
were in excess of 60 knots.
We added two additional chase personnel because
our chase crew was looking at driving around the clock
to keep up with us.
(click on image
to the right to see it full size)
(click on image to the right to see it full size)
As you look at the jumble of blues, greens, yellows and reds you might ask what are we looking at. Well it is the rain we were going to face during our flight. You can see the heavy reds and purples over Texas. It is a giant convective storm that was predicted for this area over the three days of the flight. We were told get to Kansas and Nebraska; avoid Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas at the beginning of the flight and plan on rain when we got close to landing. If you were too slow the rain in the NW corner of the country would catch us. The hurricane on the coast of Mexico and California would be the source of moisture that would eventually affect all of the eastern USA and fuel the heavy storms in Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas and later in the week Missouri, Kansas etc, etc, etc.
At our afternoon briefing we were again told that Saturday night would be “a go for launch”. What actually happened is the Hurricane in the Pacific caused a developing trough area over AZ and NM to move and compress the wind gradients which cause the winds on the field to increase from 8 miles per hour to 20 plus mph gusting to almost 30 mph. We were 5 minutes from launch when Fiesta put on a weather hold that lasted almost 3 hours. In the end we could not launch the balloons safely and the launch was abandoned.
On Sunday they told us the event was canceled because the weather in the USA would not allow us 24 hours of safe flying conditions. The cost to Fiesta for a second attempt to fill the 9 balloons was approximately 60K. That was just too much considering the weather we would face in flight. With that notice we were told all of our entry fees would be refunded. That was the good news. The bad is we only had one more day of paid hotel rooms. I drove home on Sunday after the morning flight. As most of you know they had several accidents on Sunday caused by the winds. It has been a very challenging year for those at this event.
Here is a link to a video that Tim Baggett shot of the windy conditions. He was crew chief on the Yellow Beast.
Here are a few pictures from our inflation effort at the 2009 America's Challenge Race:
2009 America's Challenge Photo Album