Good Evening, All, We hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday and now our attention will focus on the upcoming launch. Everything still points to this Saturday the 26th.
Weather forecasts seem to be holding up. We expect light and variable winds on the ground but strong winds from west-northwest sweeping towards the east-southeast through all altitudes of our flight. Based on the wind modeling from the previous updates, I sought out a launch location near Comanche TX. Typically, I look for a public space like a high-school, or park. From google maps, often I have a decent feeling of the landscape but in this case, I am not familiar with the area; so, I took a half day off of work on Tuesday and drove about 2 hours west of home to scout potential launch sites.
Frankly, I assumed I was headed to their high-school. Usually public access isn’t an issue, it’s wide open with plenty of room to lay out gear. BUT, their high-school is basically located under the traffic pattern of the airport anyway and as a pilot, I was drawn to the that facility instead. There are several key things that I like about that site right now. Being that it’s an airport, there are no power-lines or obstructions close. It is a small municipal airport with very very few landing operations per day and the well-kept ramp is virtually empty. They have a pilot’s ‘shack’ with a combination lock on the door with a ‘clue’ to open the door that even a basic pilot should know, which grants us access to a restroom, power, some table space and planning room AND they have a UNICOM. Basically it’s a radio transmitter for the airport frequency that allows us to announce balloon launch minutes before and immediately after in the event someone is flying in the area. I DO NOT recommend planning a balloon launch from an airport facility. Yet, in this instance, the conditions are just going to work out perfect we think.
I walked across the street and spoke with the county sheriff who had no issues with us using the facility. Then I spoke with the city manager and got email confirmation from the airport manager that we were welcomed and encouraged to come. i don’t think we could do any better than that.
Also, in regards to the FAA and airspace issues, I called the local flight office (on Thanksgiving morning) and had the most helpful and encouraging conversation about filing a NOTAM for this launch. A ‘Notice To Airmen’ is a way of entering into the system, a notice to any aircraft flying in a zone that we define, should be aware that ‘something is out there’. While they may not every come close to seeing it, it’s out there. Again, it helps that I’m a pilot because entering this information assumes you know something about aviation navigation aids and you know how to find a heading and distance from a navaid and can explain in pilot-speak over the phone where/when/how high you think this balloon might go.
Here’s the map I used, and here’s the actual NOTAM that was actually filed. We are legal, legit, and cleared as far as the FAA is concerned. As a courtesy, I’ll call Ft Worth Center and confirm that we are off the ground and that everything is proceeding as we planned.