Tuesday, July 31, 2018
The software that we use to predict a launch point so the payload will travel to our intended landing point directed us to an area today that was inaccessible by GMC Yukon, so we were toodling around about five miles away surrounded by tall trees. We went down one small dirt road to see if someone had a yard we could use, stopping to ask a man who just happened to be leaving in a car. It turned out he was working with a construction crew there and was not the owner but, as luck would have it, he and his brother own the Birches Resort on Boot Lake and we were welcome to use their field there. As time had gotten a little late, we high-tailed it over to Boot Lake and found a beautiful open field for our use. As we set up, a group of guests came over to watch and we were able to recruit not just one, but two balloon launch helpers! As a bonus, we added a downward looking camera to the payload so we could get some views from above.
The launch went beautifully but once again we had low winds throughout the profile, so the balloon sort of meandered this way and that, not really following the trajectory at all. We found ourselves on one side of a large lake, unsure whether the payload would end up on the far side, our side, or somewhere in between – yikes! Eventually we made the decision to head for the north side (i.e. the far side) and hurried off. The payload absolutely toyed with us…. From “Oh, it looks like it will stay over land!” to “Uh, oh…. now it’s stalled out over the lake!” to “Oh, it’s heading east again for land!” to “Hey, look, it’s actually following that narrow strip of land, almost like a runway!” to “Ohhhhhhh nooooo…. it’s heading north again…..” to “Yeah, it’s definitely going to land in the water.” All the while we were driving along deciding at each intersection what our best strategy was. We ended up at a boat landing and were able to see the final descent as the payload just cleared a tiny island with a handful of pretty tall trees on it. The actual landing was out of view, but presumably it was a splashdown in Trude Lake.
We saw a speedboat headed our way and hoped they happened to be on the way to the boat landing, but they veered off, so we hopped back in the car and drove another mile to some lakeside cabins and started knocking on doors. Ashley answered one of them and said she wouldn’t be able to take us out in the motorboat because she was home with her newborn baby, but we were welcome to borrow the canoe. She provided us life jackets and paddles and off we went. We could see the orange bags about a third of a mile off shore and the “seas” were calm, so it didn’t take long for us to pull up alongside the payload. One by one, Jack hauled all the pieces into the canoe.
Back on land we discovered that all the electronics seemed to be okay, despite floating out there for half an hour or so – a nice surprise for our first-ever water recovery. On the drive home we discussed how lucky we had gotten with that landing given that it could very easily have landed in a much larger lake or, comically, how it came so close to getting snagged on a tall tree on a tiny island in the wide open expanse of Trude Lake. Then we would have had to borrow the canoe and bring along our 16’ AirCore snagging pole.
Back at “the lab”, Tim analyzed the AirCores and, huzzah, the samples were also just fine. Definitely a night to celebrate with the Wisconsin specialty of deep-fried cheese curds! To cap off the day, Colm Sweeney rolled up to the cabin at about 10pm. Colm is the lead scientist for the AirCore Project at NOAA. He flew to Minneapolis and drove up to Park Falls so Jack could leave in the morning to fly back to Colorado.