Usually my flights have been from my home village in Berkshire, but for a while I’ve been wanting to launch with other enthusiasts from one of the 2 permanently NOTAMed sites in Cambridgeshire. Also, another enthusiast (also called Dave – hereafter known as Dave B) wanted to fly his first weather balloon, so we contacted Steve Randall who runs one of those sites, and has been doing this hobby for more than almost anyone in the UK. If you’ve seen a weather balloon launch on TV, then Steve was probably involved (including the recent One Show flight and last year’s James May’s Man Lab show.
As it was Dave B’s first flight, I offered to add a backup tracker payload to his flight. This was a simple payload – no cameras – which I placed in a preformed egg:
For my own flight I wanted to build a very light payload but with a camera. The lightest suitable good quality camera I know of is the Canon A490/495 at around 125g plus batteries. I had some hollow polystyrene balls and spent a while thinking of how to solidly mount a camera inside one, and eventually came up with the idea of using an internal solid ball as a “sub-frame” holding the camera and tracker, and simply enclose this in the hollow ball for insulation. Like this:
We had to leave rather early in the morning to make the 2 hour drive to Cambs and get set up early. We’d hoped to get all flights launched by 10am when the same area was in use by a rocket club, but in the event preparations took rather longer so we had to arrange launch times with them to avoid a rocket making a big hole in one of our balloons!
Here’s a photo with the rather yellow ANU payload in the middle, built by Dave B (on the left). My pink payloads are on the left. Jon (another enthusiast) and Steve are chatting in the background.
ANU launched first, with Cloud5 underneath. We then inflated and launched Buzz5. With a lower ascent rate Buzz5 was certain to land afterwards, so we all set out to chase down ANU. Despite a couple of wrong turns we found the payload fairly quickly, lying in a field just a few metres from a road. Very convenient! Here’s a rather pleased Dave B having collected his first payload:
Next up, Buzz5. Unfortunately it started to float at altitude, slowly drifting northwards. That gave it less land to aim it during descent, and when the balloon did eventually burst (at an impressive 41882m – then the second highest UK flight and currently the highest amateur helium flight worldwide) the prediction showed it landing 10 miles offshore. We chased nonetheless, and as the payload descended the expected landing spot moved closer and closer to land ….
… but not close enough, hitting the sea at about 1 mile out from the coast at Cromer.
We continued anyway, and as we got to the beach road at Cromer we started picking up the radio transmission from the payload. So, surprisingly, despite hitting sea water it was still running! We found a parking spot up on a cliff, and then managed to decode the telemetry, showing the payload about 2 miles away and 1 mile from the closest point on the coast. We tracked it for a while to see where it was going:
so, unlike my last sea landing, this one wasn’t headed back to land. We called around to try and find someone to rescue the payload by boat, and thought we had something when we found “The Boathouse” on Google, but that turned out to be a pub! We then called the harbour master at the nearest harbour, but all boats were done for the day. So we found a chip shop for my now customary fish & chips before leaving for home.