This e-mail is reaching a variety of people, including very experienced LTA pilots, people that are legends in ballooning, my personal friends who have opted in to the list, and people who have no idea what it is that I'm up to, but haven't asked to be removed yet.
Thanks for opting in, and let's see if we can get this sucker off the ground!
There will be a series of mails, addressing the questions that are coming up. After each mail, I'm open to your responses and ideas. This first mail is just in intro, to introduce the topic, and let you know project status to date. We'll get into more details in following mails. Topics I hope to cover in coming emails include the wonderful questions and suggestions that have been coming in, applicability of Part 103, my cluster designs, calculations, build status, and finally communications up through flight time, including on how to track this sucker in the sky.
For those of you new to the project, here's the scoop:
I got inspired, and decided I wanted to strap a bunch of balloons to myself, and fly away. I've been taking some steps to pursue this as a very serious endeavor, as strapping toy balloons to oneself should never be done in jest. (Yes, I used this exact line privately with one of you.)
For the flight, I have chosen a gondola that is integral to the project. The whole point of this project is the gondola. I've learned to use ballooning jargon and say 'gondola' or 'trapeze' or sometimes 'basket' because I've found people freak out when you tell them you want to fly your office chair.
Ok, so let's just agree that this is the gondola for the flight, and move forward.
High level status is this: I did some initial tests, using balloons from two providers. I wouldn't call these 'weather balloons', but the size fits. The two types I've tried come from these two providers: http://balloondealer.com/skybuster.asp http://www.balloonsdirect.com/weather_balloons.htm
(No, these balloons are not designed for human flight.)
In the testing, I far preferred the 8-foot chloroprene balloons from balloons direct. They were 'boing-ierâ'when inflated, and I perceived them to be less on the verge of popping when inflated.
The largest balloons provide the best lift for the price. The cost increases substantially if one was to do a flight using a cluster of 5-foot balloons vs. a cluster of 8 foot balloons.
In my testing, I observed 9 pounds of lift per balloon. I did this by getting a bucket of water and weighing on a scale. Then I attached the balloon to the water can, and observed the difference in the amount registered on the scale.
I also bought a 'hang scale,' kind of like the things used to weigh a freshly caught fish. Ok, not 'kind of like' one of those-- it is one of those. It's a fish scale. I bought it at the camping store. But, my test balloons were popped by then, so I didn't measure lift using the fish scale. Next inflation I'll measure lift before assembling the cluster.
At this point in testing, I knew nothing. I was inflating mid-morning on a warm day. Wind was very low, but the temperature climbed throughout the day. (Warmer air = less dense air. Less dense air means the balloons aren't buoyed up in the fluid (air) as forcefully. That is, atmospheric pressure decreases, lift decreases.) I may well observe greater lift during the actual assembly of the cluster, and may adjust the number of balloons downward.
In this first communiquÃ©, I am attaching some photos from the test inflation. Note the good news: the sucker flew. It was a much bigger deal talking about flying it and planning for it than actually making it fly. So many people referenced the 'Mythbusters' episode where they couldn't do this. And, what did I know? Well, now I know.
During this test inflation, some argue that I *may* have violated CFR Part 101, Subpart B, relating to Moored Balloons. (Who knew that there was a section on moored balloons? Ok, ok-- some of you balloonists knew. But, it wasn't in my Federal Aviation Regulations book; that section is omitted from the printed version at Barnes & Noble! You have to look it up online: http://ecfr.gpoaccess.gov/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=ecfr&rgn=div5&view=text&node=14:126.96.36.199.15&idno=14)
(Don't go into Subpart D-- Unmanned free balloons. This wasn't a free balloon. It was tethered to the surface of the earth; it wasn't flying free.)
Does this section apply to my test balloons? I think so: 'any balloon that is moored to the surface of the earth or an object thereon and that has a diameter of more than 6 feet or a gas capacity of more than 115 cubic feet.'
The test balloons were bigger than 6 feet, and had a capacity of greater than 115 cubic feet. I complied with everything in that section (without knowing it).... EXCEPT:
Â§101.19: No person may operate a moored balloon unless it has a device that will automatically and rapidly deflate the balloon if it escapes from its moorings. If the device does not function properly, the operator shall immediately notify the nearest ATC facility of the location and time of the escape and the estimated flight path of the balloon.
I say that some argue I only *may* have violated this rule because, if the balloon escaped, it would rapidly climb to altitude and pop-- which would be a rapid deflation device, and I would be in compliance. Had it slipped its mooring it would have become what the FAA calls a 'derelict balloon' (I can't make these terms up.) If that happened, ATC would have issued traffic advisories.
Interesting to read through that section. (Ok, interesting for nerds.) If you're doing a gas balloon test, this is good section to read. Later on, you may be outside of this section, flying under Part 91 as a piloted aircraft (even on the surface)-- but during this testing, it was a moored balloon, not a piloted balloon.
Note that the building in the photos is 6 floors, and the photos from inside the office are taken from the 5th floor. Also note that the rigging of the system is rough. This was just a general feasibility test, and it isn't rigged for human flight. Nonetheless, one of my colleagues that was present gave my favorite quote of the day: 'This is much less Mickey Mouse than it sounds.'
Why, thank you. I think.
You may also note that in one of the pictures I am holding the tether line with my teeth as I put my gloves on. This is a stupid thing to do.
Ok, you guys see how these communiquÃ©s go? They have a broad audience, including some people that care about things like CFRs, and want to get into the details of the upcoming flight, and some team members that are just learning lighter-than-air stuff.
For CommuniquÃ© 1, this is far enough. For pilots and balloonists, I intend to cover detailed topics. For our generalists, I promise: big cool balloons flying through the sky.
Thank you very much!!