BUZZ6 Flight – To The World Record and Behind

For Buzz6 I wanted to make the lightest payload I can, to try and beat the world altitude record. That record was in the hands of Steve Randall who’d beaten the previous record a couple of weeks before. I helped with that a little, including driving Steve from Cambs to near Birmingham where the payload eventually landed, in a field a short walk from the nearest road. My flight was also from the same site, and I was joined by Steve trying to beat his own record, and Dave Bowkis flying his camera payload for the second time.

I built Buzz into a small egg, total weight including batteries a mere 40 grams, and found a convenient place for him in the car for the drive over to Cambs:

Dave was the first to launch, and here he’s being watched during inflation:

Next was my Buzz flight, and this is me about to launch:

Finally it was Steve’s flight – XABEN25. Both Dave and I had launched by running along with the wind, towards the balloon, to allow the balloon to rise before letting go. However Steve had a much better and very very cool way to launch. He asked me to hold the balloon upwind, whilst he held his payload downwind. He then told me to “let go” which I questioned as it all seemed wrong. But no, that’s exactly what he wanted. He stood there facing me, waited for the balloon to pass him, then casually tossed his payload into the air over his shoulder. It couldn’t have been cooler if he’d been wearing shades!

So, on to the recovery. Again ANU was expected to be the first to land, so Dave and I headed that way with my cousin Bill following. Steve meanwhile made his own way to retrieve his own payload. I was tuned into BUZZ then suddenly the transmission stopped! No!!! My fear was that a power glitch had caused the radio transmitter to reset, and there’s no way back from that without resetting the radio (which the software does not currently do). So I listened for a while but then gave up. So now it was down to recovering the other 2 flights. We headed for a spot close to where ANU was expected to land. While waiting we heard that XABEN too had stopped transmitting data! Not good. However it was still transmitting a carrier so it was possible it would still be recovered. Then some good news – Buzz was transmitting again! So now we had hope of recovering all 3 payloads.

We got very close as ANU came into land, but annoyingly the cloud cover was very low and we still didn’t see it coming down even though it passed directly over us at one point. Here’s the flight path (ANU on the left, XABEN on the right).

XABEN was still flying when we set out on foot to recover ANU. We had to walk around 2 or 3 fields but eventually found ANU lying in a field. Here are Dave and Ros celebrating:

On the way back to the car I heard that not only was Buzz still transmitting, but it had broken the world altitude record. Then I heard that Xaben had suddenly started transmitting telemetry again, and that it had beaten my world record. Buzz got to 43639m (nearly 1000m above Steve’s previous world record), and Xaben beat that by 82m reaching an amazing 43721m. Buzz’s record lasted for a mere 5 minutes and 40 seconds, which has to be one of the briefest world records ever! Anyway the main thing was that we now had two live payloads as well as the recovered one.

I tried to call Steve to see if he needed help recovering his payload, but he had no signal. After a while Buzz burst, so with still no contact with Steve, I decided that it would be best to start chasing after Buzz who by now was over Nottingham and heading further north. The prediction was for somewhere near Mansfield so we headed there. I reconnected my webcam and attached to the windscreen to show a live video feed from the car:

So everyone watching the action via the internet could see how we were progressing. I had this set up for most of the day – for the launches, chases and for ANU’s recovery on foot too.

Then, during descent, Buzz stopped transmitting again! This actually made sense if it was a temperature problem, because the coldest temperatures are not actually at the highest altitudes. On the way up Buzz worked till 10km and the signal was then picked up again, by chance, from 37km. So it made sense for the same kind of thing to happen on the way down. I asked the listeners to stay tuned in because the positions when it did start up would be precious. Sure enough, transmissions started again and we had data down to about 3000 metres. The prediction was for a landing in or near Lean Valley Park, so we set off in that direction.

With about 10 miles to go I tuned my radio receiver in, and then with 5 miles to go I started to pick up the transmission again! So I asked for the car to stop, and then managed to get full telemetry from the payload, showing that it had landed in that park, over 3 miles from where we were parked. That was initially a surprising result, because a payload on the ground can normally only be picked up from no more than a mile away. However we were on a slight hill, and the payload was on the side of another hill the other side of the valley. So the terrain really helped us here. Back in the car I typed in the payload position into the sat nav and we headed towards it, parking up in a housing estate about 200 metres from the payload’s position:

Fortunately there was a convenient path behind the houses then along the edge of the park, then into the park not far from the payload.

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