Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Worlds Wrap up

Our team after the last flight with our observer for the flight, Diana from Russia. From left to right; Tem, Diana, Wendy, Phil, Pete, Yosh and me.

Well done to Johnny , Joe and Uwe for another fantastic display of how it should be done.

After a hard week of flying, 29 tasks and about another 20 hours in the sky Johhny Petrehn has come out the other side at World Champion. Again Uwe is one of the brides maids which must really be starting to hurt. As always he was a popular person to have on the podium next to the Americans. With only 400 points between each place on the podium it was still tight to the end.

My result is up there with my worst at a worlds in 36th place. The rest of the Aussies finished in 18th (Paul Gibbs), 31st (Edwin Michell) and 44th (Andrew Robertson). I don't think any of us are very happy with our places but as always are ready to fight again - next time in Austria 2008.

At some stage I will get the rest of my track logs on the blog as they show in more detail where we were going - or not as the case may be.

We are now at the Holiday Inn at Narita after dropping the balloons off for airfreight back to Australia. Andrew, Adam, Pete, Dad and I got together to swap photos and we have around 1700 between us and just under 4.7gb in total. Got to love digital cameras.

I will also put down some thoughts on the 600ft/min climb rate restriction and the effects it had on the competition and behaviour of the competitors. I am expecting this to be a hot topic at the next CIA meeting so time to start contacting the competitors sub committee and lobbying your local delegate if you have an opinion. Rule changes will probably make their way onto the agenda of the Rules SC in the near future so watch out for them and make your voice heard if you don't like where things are going.

It has been a fantastic week but the sadness over the passing of Masashi has always been near to many peoples thoughts. It is still sitting heavy on my heart. I think he would have been very proud with the result of all his hard work - although even more so if one of the Japanese had got up top for a fairy tale ending.

Les Perfield did a great job as director and the team of officials Masahsi had in place need to be recognised for pushing on under difficult circumstances. As always the Japanese organisation was second to none and the continued support of the Honda Motor Company is a fantastic thing for our sport.

PS: having looked in the mirror again, I am not really a dickhead. I just had a bad day which is easy to do when pushing a bag of hot air around the sky.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

2006 Worlds are over

The last flight has been flown and to celebrate the week of team Gomi I even landed with my marker!

After a wind shift once our launch site was chosen and the balloon out of the truck we were faced with a painful creep well to the right of goal or try and do something clever. I opted for the hero or zero option - it turned out to be a zero but it was a nice climb to 5200ft at 600ft/min followed by a dawdle down to landing at 600 ft/min. What a silly thing to do.

The wind never turned around as I hoped and in the end only got faster for a while. In the end I was no doubt last place at 4665m. The up side is that I could have been last place at 1000m either way so it was not like I threw anything away.

It has been a great week, the flying was hard and my decision making often questionable but the team were great and supported me the whole way. The final results are going to hit the board from about 8pm local time onwards and we will see where we ended up.

Time for the night glow then a cash prize flight in the morning before the big pack up and trip home.

Last morning flight

The last morning flight in Motegi has been flown. It was a PDG, JDG, JDG and FON.

Finally the weather was typical for the area with light winds and lots of challenges. The PDG caught many people out and I am happy with my 19.15m drop. There were better drops but it looked like some long ones too.

The first JDG was hard to get to and I think more than half of the field slipped off to the east of the target as the winds changed. As such my drop of about 7m felt very good.

The next JDG was next to impossible as the winds continued to turn and only a hand full of the early balloons got with in a bulls roar of it. Even at 1.9km I may do ok in points.

The FON was hard work as remaining fuel and a big change in direction forced a goal selection back in the direction we had come from. In the need I got within 1km before taking a safe landing away from the forest.

Fingers crossed for two tasks this afternoon at Haga.

Worlds Final Day

So today is the last day of the competition and we are driving in from our little houses.

The afternoon flight was canceled yesterday due to high winds and the expectation of them increasing towards sunset. The forecast was for a perfect day of flying today so there were no real grumbles.

An interesting discussion with all of the pilots was held after the briefing to see if there was some solution to the problem of mid air collisions. Collisions seem to have been on the increase in recent years and so far at this event there has been close to ten. In the most serious a balloon was destroyed and the pilot and crew only saved by quick thinking and a bit of luck.

Full details are yet to be released but the report we were given yesterday indicated that in the collision the lower balloon got a major tear in the top and started to deflate in flight - I think at around 1000ft. The pilot dumped three full cylinders from the basket and left two to continue burning all the way to the ground. They were lucky that it was enough ballast to slow them down and that the field under them was clear of power lines or house. In the end they made a relatively soft landing at 200 ft/min.

As far as I know this was the only accident with damage to a balloon but it was a little too close to killing someone.

As a result we were all warned before the flight yesterday morning that one more collision and the maximum rate of climb and descent would be limited. Guess what, yesterday morning there was another major collision at a target, still no one hurt but enough to scare the S&!T out of the observer in the basket and the people on the ground.

So now we are waiting on a determination of what the limit would be. If we had flown yesterday afternoon it would have been 600 ft/min up or down. Considering most competition balloons can comfortably do twice that speed it is a big restriction.

The problem as one French pilot put it is courtesy rather than the speed. Some pilots just don't seem to care. The good pilots go fast in clear air and communicate with the balloons around them when close to a target or making a fast climb. Many do not and will drop into a group of balloons level over a target and barge their way in causing the problems.

One of the American pilots pointed out that in motor sport they get rid of reckless drivers rather than slow the cars down. I have to agree.

We have flown World Grand Prix events here for six years with only one or two minor collisions. The pilots at these events have been mostly the same group of top end guys and girls who not only know how to drop markers but also how to work around a group of balloons. At the worlds we get first timers or pilots with little competition experience thrown into the air with more balloons than they may be used to and national pride at stake. A crazy mix.

Part of the problem also that limiting the speed will not fix the problem. A closure rate of 1200ft/min is still feasible with the proposed limits and that will still tear a balloon in basket to envelope contact. Indeed most of the collisions so far have been at about that rate. Some people have indicated that getting all the pilots to stare at their variometers all flight will also cause a problem. I am not so sure about that but it will be interesting to see the penalty's after the flight today.

I don't know what the solution is but the director is right. We don't want to see someone killed.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Yes, I am a dickhead

Ever had a day where you wished it was raining or you did not get out of bed?

Today was that day. I won;t bother with the details of the task other than to say it was four tasks and I missed them all. A bad launch site choice has me wast way too much time trying to get on track. By the time I arrived at the first goal it was all changing and we never recovered from there.

The next goal was 3500m followed by about 400m and then the absolute gem for the morning, flew withing 20m of my last goal only to climb a little to much and end up dropping at a bout 90 or 100m. Great stuff.

Anyhow, despite all that, the weather is still great and we have three more flights to do. The wind shear this morning taught me a few new aerobatic tricks and we did not damage anything. The crew are all still laughing and we are officially team gomi (rubbish in Japanese).

The most disappointing thing about today was that Paul took off with me. He is placed really well and had a similar flight and results to mine. From my position it is not such a problem but for him today will be devastating. I hope he can get the points back.

Lets see if I can remember to fly by the afternoon...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Worlds Day 5.0

Thursday is done. A four part task this morning with a JDG, Angle, Fly on and JDG.

Nothing much to report on the results just yet as nothing is published and it was a very hard day to guess how people went. I am not all that happy with my results but only the scorers know and they haven't told us yet.

The afternoon as a minimum distance which I messed up too. It has been a humbling week in an area I expected to do well in. The good news is we are having fun and with the weather looking like it may stay good to then end we have as many as 10 or 12 tasks to fly yet. Anything can happen.

Paul seems to be doing very well which is great news and Andrew is starting to see some targets after a slow start. Edwin has dropped off from his early positions but as I said, lots of flying to be done yet.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Worlds Day 4.1

Finally cracked the sub 1m results this afternoon with a cracking 0.46m drop on a PDG.

Now I have that out there...the whole story.

After a bad morning and a few hours of beating myself up and searching the web for a new sport, I walked into the afternoon briefing refreshed and looking forward to a few more markers and the chance to put things right again.

The task was a PDG and Fly in with us allowed to choose two PDG goals and fly the tasks in any order. The winds were from the south west and a weak front was due to arrive at about 6pm and move all the winds around to the north west.

We took off soon after the launch period started and used the lower winds to creep up to the fly in from the south. I had two PDG goals set to the north to work after the Fly In.

The approach to the Fly in was not all that good and I climbed for more right when I probably should have hugged the ground. In any event, I dropped from about 200 ft while descending and was about 50m of to the side of the target.

Lots of balloons looked like they might miss it but lots also looked like they did well. I don't expect too many points from it.

The PDG was great as both goals were well placed and the winds were doing as I expected. I approached my first option about 50m to the right of target and decided to hang onto my marker and go for the second option. I am glad I did.

With more time to work out the best approach I slid in right over the intersection and with a little throw landed the marker at 46cm from the center.

All in all, typical of this week so far. One good and one less than good result. Consistency is the game and I am not doing that at all.

Tomorrow the competition moves out to Utsonomyia as there is a huge public day here at the Twin ring track and in order to avoid traffic chaos, we will all be using a different part of the map. I have no idea if we will get any Internet access out there so it may be a while before the next update.

Worlds Day 4.0

The wrap up from yesterday afternoon was that I clawed a few places back to 17th. Paul is now a few places in front of me and I really need to be doing better.

The weather this morning was fantastic, my skills were not. 5 tasks were called with the flight to be done solo and with observers to follow on the ground. A real pain the neck as I need the extra weight in my basket and having an observer on board to observe drops can really help.

The tasks were PDG, JDG, FON, JDG, FON. The PDG will be about 100m, the JDG I messed up badly and was on the wrong side of the river. To add to the result, the marker tail was in the water and dragged the marker into the river. A marker on the river is a no result so I have no idea how this will score at this time.

The first FON I finally got a result at 3m then missed the next JDG by about 100m before stuffing up the last FON with a result of 42m.

It was not a good day at all and will really hurt my scores.

Time to sign the observer sheet and get some lunch, try and get a few points back this afternoon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Worlds 3.1

3rd Competition flight is now over. The afternoon was a Fly in followed by a Fly on.

The winds in the Haga valley are always a challenge and today was no different. On the ground the direction was always shifting so picking the launch point was hard work. In the end I ended up further north than I would have liked and had to climb to just under the ceiling of 6000ft. to get a direction to the south.

With some work and a big descent I made it in the general area of the goal and I think the final result was about 150-200m. Not great but you take what you can get.

The fly on had to be 2km away from the fly in and I thought I had corrected enough for the winds we were finding in flight. In the end it was still further south than I would have liked and had to do another big climb to get south. The speed up top was not all that good and was actually taking me further to the east as well as south.

The ground wind was fast enough that when i finally made my descent I was right on track and arrived at the goal with about a minute to spare in the scoring period. Very close but enough time to drop at 3.03m which should be good points.

It also looks like results are up for this morning and I think I got 161 points for the first task but got 995 points for the second task. It will be interesting to see the totals but they are not up yet.

Time to eat and sleep.

Worlds Day 3.0

The second flight for the competition has been flown with only two tasks on offer.

With strong upper winds left over from the bad weather, fog in the valleys and well soaked fields, it was always going to be a little bit interesting.

First task was a hesitation waltz, with two judge declared goals to choose from. The second task was a fly on.

As you can see from the track there was not a lot of choices in direction. With speed just over the tops of the mountians at about 20 km/h there was a good bit of turbulance and curl over so staying in control was good fun.

The first target was hard to get enough left for and most people did not do all that well. A few balloons attempted the goal to the west but I don;t know if anyone actuall got there.

In the end I got within 860m from the first task and have no idea how that will score as there will no doubt be lost markers and estimated results from drops in the bush.

The second task, the FON, was much better. A well chosen goal and good information on the ground got me a 2.3m result on a morning where I have heard fly on results of upto 1km.

All in all a good morning and great to be flying again.

The sun is out and we will be flying in the afternoon if the wind is slow enough.

My team are relaxed and having fun which is great news.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Worlds day 2.2

Results updated!

Nothing big but a change in the system some where has moved us up one place to 18th - and all we did was have breakfast! At this rate we will be winning in no time.

Worlds day 2.1

Monday afternoon has been canceled due to wind and rain. the good news is that it looks like it is clearing up and the wind will help dry things off for the morning. The forecast is for improving weather so I think it will be on in the morning.

We have had the obligatory bacon and eggs and pancakes at Dennys before shopping for gum boots and other wet weather nick nacks. With the afternoon off we will be looking around the fantastic Honda Museum and Asmio robot demo and interactive displays.

Taking the time to rest is important as even though we have missed 3 flights now, there are still about 9 or 10 flight slots to go so keeping fresh and rested is important.

As such we will also probably flog some go-karts around the track here for an hour or so.....I feel the need, the need for speed.

Worlds Day 2.0

Rain, Rain Rain. The rain has set in.

This morning we were woken by the pagers letting us know to go back to sleep as there was no flight. It is also likely that this afternoon will be missed as well.

The good news is that the ground will be soft and muddy for a few days so even when we do get to fly it will be a challenge to fins a clean place to launch or land.

Results for the first morning are out and we have done ok considering the huge mistake. As expected, my result on the Fly In was not all that great and would have been worth about 500 points. With the distance penalty it took me to 2nd last place on that task and a huge 32 points out of 1000. Oh well.

Results are here.

The track image is here so you can see how the flight was flown. With those big red rings you may wonder how I launched on the wrong side of the line? So do I. In reality it was just a stupid twist of technology tied up with a brain fade. The car computer for road navigation did not have the limits drawn on it and I was using it to pick the launch site. The flight computer was being used to look at wind data and for choosing the PDG at 316 and I was only checking the distance from the PDG to the launch site thinking that 10km was miles away and there was no way were out that far from the FIN. A really dumb noob mistake I have not made in maybe 8 years and not likely to do again in a hurry.

The good news is that I am in 19th place despite that and had I not made the technical error, would have been more like the top 10 even with the poor Fly in result of 25m. With 62 competitors the scoring is harsh and some good results are not getting good points. On the last task, my 5m was 8th place and got 830 points. A 16m result would only get 500 points so things are tight at the top.

I expect that everyone will slip up so the chance to make up points will always be there as a poor result will loose you a lot of points very quickly. At the top end, it will be a good fight and after one flight I am close enough to join in.

Edwin is the next highest Aussie at 24th place and Paul is at 30th. Andrew was hit by the very tight results on all targets and taking off with me and getting the distance penalty did not help at all.

Paul has been penalized for a midair collision after the last target. Details are still sketchy so I won't really speculate here other than he told me he was climbing slowly (about 200 ft/min) and was hit by a descending balloon. Others have said he was climbing faster than that. In any case, being the climbing balloon generally works against you and with GPS loggers on all balloons the track log would have been reviewed and a determination made based on the evidence from that.

I am not sure if he is going to protest or take it further. His result on the particular task was not great before the penalty so my personal view is that it is not worth the mental effort to fight for a few hundred points. On the other hand if we are sitting around in the rain for another day it gives him something to do.

Fingers crossed the rain stops and we can get on with it.


The afternoon flight was cancelled due to rain. It was a great time to catch up on some sleep so wraped myself up oin the futon for a few hours. Later on we headed off for a fantastic feed at a Yakiniku restaurant. Basically you all sit around a small barbecue on the table and cook strips of meat and vegetable to your liking. A quick dunk in the special sauce and into your mouth. Very social and very tasty.

Peter had been raving about it and we finally located one not to far from out house. I expect we will eat there again if time permits.

With constant rain it looks like the flight in the morning will be canceled so it is time for a few beers back at Pete and Adams house.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Worlds Day 1.2

Photos!!!!! We have finally got some photos on the web.

Mine are on flickr - link on the right.

Adam has his here: http://flickr.com/photos/wolfieb/299201030/


Time to head off for the afternoon flight. Looks like rain so maybe nothing will happen. Fingers crossed we get another flight in.

Worlds Day 1.1

Ok, 1.1 means this is the second update for day 1.

We have just got back from the flight which was a PDG, FIN, FON. It looked like it was going to be a bit fast up top so the taskes were set to move us out to the west and out of the mountians where it might be slower or at the very least the landings easier.

Andrew and I worked together for the morning and ended up launching on a very different flight path to most of the field. It worked out ok as far as I am concerned with 3.14m on the PDG, about 30m on the FIN and 5m on the FON.

One technical error on my part will cost us both dearly on the FIN. We were outside the Max distance of 10km by about 390m. As a result we will have twice that added to the result.

On a morning where the results will be good it will kill us and I am expecting a total of maybe 100 points on that task. If it is any consolation, it is day 1, there will be a chance to make it up and also the results on the FIN looked very close so 30m may have only been 500 points anyway!

The funny side of the morning was the last marker. Japanese love to burn rubbish! Unfortunately my 5m drop was near a very clean living farmer who promptly burnt all of the markers he could find....Good news was that the observer had already witnessed the point where it landed so we still get the result.

Crazy stuff but we are underway!

Worlds Day 1.0

Sorry it has been a while since updates. We arrived in Japan on Thursday and have had two practice flights which were great fun. We have managed to get all of the crew a flight in the area so now everyone is on the same page and knows where I will be working and where they will be driving.

Yosh and Mayimi arrived from Saga yesterday afternoon and met us at the welcome party/opening ceremony.

Currently we are driving in for the first morning briefing. There is an air of excitement in the crews and I am looking forward to t all starting. With some luck we will be better set up for Internet access as we have a wireless Internet card for my PC now (Thanks to Yosh) and we will also be closer to the competition center where there is access.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Not long to go now

Tuesday night and basically 24 hours to go until we leave for the airport.

Every thing has been hectic at work (no real surprises there) but we are under control and ready to get back to Japan. Time to pack a few bags, get some rest and bring on the competition.

Andrew will be collecting his balloon from the freight forwarder in Narita tomorrow morning so I hope all goes well for him - his balloon has the windreader in it so it is as important to me that it clears customs as it is to him!

Pete and Adam left today some time so will be there tonight and will drive up to Motegi with Andrew in the morning.

It looks like everything with Molly is under control so Mum and Dad are definitely coming to operate the windreader which is also good news on both fronts.

New vinyl signs have been cut for all of the Australian team cars so we will at the very least look the part!

Monday, November 13, 2006

By golly it's Molly

As if running backwards and forwards between Japan and Australia is not enough, I just went to Melbourne to visit my little niece, Molly.

What a beautiful little girl she is too. Proud, if not a little worn out, parents Paul and Gerogia are in the photo with her.

Molly has had some complications soon after birth which have kept her in hospital but with some luck she will make it home in the coming weeks.

Well done guys!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Farewell Masashi

I am lost for words and deeply saddened that Masashi has passed away. He succumbed to complications arising from a heart attack at 4pm on Wednesday, 8th of November 2006.

It is a great loss for his friends and family as well as the ballooning community.

We will remember his name and honor his deeds. In Motegi we will enjoy the fruits of his labour and make the competition one that is remembered for more than just his absence.

Soft landings Masashi, soft landings.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

2007 Australian National Championship

Now here's some news. We are going to have a Nationals.

The last one was held in 2003 to choose the team for the 2004 Worlds in Mildura. I won and have been able to call myself the champ ever since!

Benalla Aerodrome, Victoria
Saturday 7th July 2007 - Sunday 15th July 2007

Talked to Adam the other day and he said something about securing it for 3 Nationals (which is 6 years as they are every 2 years...) Should be interesting to see how that pans out.

As always the ABF executive makes big decisions behind closed doors and none of this seems to get out to the members for comment until the deals are made....what can you do. I know I am too busy to get involved. I will just turn up where ever it is and throw markers.

Should be an interesting event as there are lots of new pilots coming through that are keen for competition. I hope they turn up now it is on offer.

Free as in beer..

Got to love Changi Airport in Singapore.

Clean, spacious and free internet. Walk up terminals or sit down/plug in desks for your laptop. Take your pick. Only the wireless is PAYG.

The flight from Fukoka was ok with a spare seat next to me - makes all the difference. Hope the next leg is empty so I can sleep all the way home.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Climate change

Now I am confused.

I just found a link to this story on Slashdot. Like many people, I have been watching with interest as the global warming debate heats up. The failure of our government to sign kyoto is as embarrassing as it bewildering in a country that struggles with drought and feels poised to suffer greatly from climate change.

As always I am in the middle of three books, two of which are tied to this post. Tim Flannery's "The weather makers", obviously about climate change and Peter F Hamilton's Sci-Fi "The Nano Flower, based in a post climate changed world.

So then this article comes out and I don't know what to think. I know I don't trust the media implicitly and I won't even comment on government right now but what the? Have a read and get another view on this interesting subject.

Personally, no matter if we are causing it or it is part of a natural cycle, we still need to make changes to the way we treat this planet.

Silly Photos of me

Thanks to Steve's comment on my profile photo and a quick rummage through my hard drive I have put to gether the following collection of me!

I will take votes over the next few days as to which one should represent me to the world...

Just call them as you see them....Beenie boy, Jap hat, Skygod1, Excersise ball accident, Skygod2, Beer Boy, Skygod3, Outback jack, Mountian Man....I am sure you can think of worse, I won't be offended and will be able to guess the one you mean.

Get well Bob...

What news to wake up to. I just received the following email from Kaz, one of Masashi's assistants in the organisation of the Worlds.

To All Participants
17th World Hot Air Balloon Championship
Tochigi, Japan

We are very sorry to inform you that Masashi Kakuda was taken to the hospital today with heart problems. This is a very serious situation but we must be patient as we wait for more news.

Please keep Masashi in your thoughts and prayers at this very difficult time. As more information on his condition becomes available, we will update you.

We want to assure everyone that the 17th World Hot Air Balloon Championship in Tochigi will proceed as planned. Masashi has a very organized group of people supporting the World event ,and plans and details continue to be handled by the event staff.

This is a real shock as Masashi (AKA Bob) has been a long time friend and fantastic event director. I have had the pleasure of flying in many competitions where he sets great tasks and makes good use of the area and weather to creat a great competiton.

Unfortunately I expect it is not without some stress that he has been working towards this World Championship in Motegi. He is a great man I hope he gets well soon. I expect we will have to wait for more details but if he can get out of hospital I doubt he will miss this event.

I don't want to even speculate as to how the Worlds will go without his direction - he has always had a great team around him who just get on with it but it still takes a leader. Bob is the sort of guy that people follow happily and work that extra hour for. Even the pilots!

The good news is that he is obviously in hospital and heart problems are not the issue they used to be....I am sure his is big enough to recover.

Get well Bob, our thoughts are with you.

Gliding video

I have been cruising the You Tube world and found this gliding video by chance. I have been flying in gliders a couple of times and have even had some hands on which was great fun but nothing like this!

This guy is smooth.

I have also added a photo to my profile so anyone who does not know me can think I am a total wanker due to the photo I have chosen. Trust me, I do not take myself as seriously as this photo.

Missing my Tem and can't wait to get home now the flying is done. Lots to do before we Sydney again on the 15th.

Monday, November 06, 2006

and the winner is...

Ok, I said this already but we just had the awards banquet today which was big on speeches - always fun and fast in two languages.

Places 4th to 7th in the photo..who came first? Not me so I forgot his name - just joking Mizukami San.

As always a great chance to say final farewells to those pilots and observers you only meed once a year at an event like this.

Invitations to visit or participate in events are always offered - if only there was a way to spend two years on the road taking them up...

Time for a bit of rest and finish packing up before the flight home. Got to get all the signage off the car too.

Skyped Andrew tonight who is very excited about Motegi and has been inspired to start a blog too!

His blog is looking very pretty already - damn web developes knowing how to tweak things. He must have more time on his hands than he lets on. Either that or he has delegated it to one of his staff! Anyhow looks great and will cause me to wast time trying to keep up...

has made an interesting summary of my life in his blog which is amusing. I suppose things always look more interesting from the other side of the fence. It is however a flattering if not totally accurate view of things.

I'm an Uncle

Bloody heck! I am an uncle!

My little bro, Paul and his partner Georgia have just had a baby girl.
I don't have any details such as size, weight or name but apparently all is well if not a little later than expected.
The proud grandparents are winging their way to Melbourne to have a peek and see their first grandchild. I expect they are very excited.

Well done to all and can't wait to see the little critter.

The Internet connection has been a bit lame today so I have only just managed to get online with all this news!

Key Grab and 4th in final results!

I have just returned form a very exciting key grab flight. It was almost exactly the same flight as yesterday afternoon but this time I got it right!

The sad news is that I missed all the keys so I did not get it all that right. We flew over the first one then just to the right of the Red key (7000USD) by maybe 20 ft then past another key at about 20 feet to the left. It was great fun and the crowd loved it.

It was pretty fast so making corrections was hard and you really only got one chance to line up.

I took Yosh, my number one Japanese crew for the flight. It was only his second proper balloon flight as he is always driving for me or his Japanese team. After we passed the launch site and keys I got him to fly the balloon for maybe 10 minutes. He showed very good control for a first time student and I think it made his week. There are so many people in the Japanese balloon clubs that getting a chance to actually fly the balloon is very hard or imposable unless you are in a position to become a student.

So after all that excitement we finally got to see some results! It looks like this morning was everything I hoped for!

I won the last task and got 965 points for the PDG - 1965 points out of a possible 2000! That is ignoring the last task that everyone got 500 points for.

So drum roll.................4th place!!!!!

What a way to finish a relaxing, no stress week of flying. I think I have remembered how to fly now. Lets go to Motegi with a full team and see what happens.

Paul also did well getting up to 6th place. We are the highest placed foreign pilots and I think/hope it will make an impression as to our intentions in Motegi.

Interestingly I was only 33 points from getting 3rd place and less than 100 from getting 2nd so it was really close.

Paul was also only about 150 points or so behind me so it was a very tight finish.

The top pilot was Takeo Mizukami so he is looking very good for Motegi. He is with out a doubt the best Japanese pilot at the moment. My old friend Endo Mamouru got 2nd so he is very happy too. This was also the Japanese nationals so the placings count towards the 2008 Worlds for them.

Saga - 5th AM post flight

The last competition flight of this years Saga International Balloon fiesta is now over.

We had three tasks (Where have all the quads gone?) being a PDG, JDG and JDG.

The two JDG's has limited scoring areas of 200m radius so it was critical to get into them.

The surface winds were very light and variable but the upper winds would take us out the North East and onto the goals. After much deliberation I picked a PDG out to the NE and climbed out in the middle of the pack. I had to go to 2200 ft to get enough right but it was there and the speed was good.

The approach to the PDG was a nice slow spiral in with it turning left all the way down. It was really nice to just make small adjustments to my location by varying the descent rate. I slowly spun in and ended up right over the intersection and dropped 4.48m by gravity drop. I had just watched Mizukami and a few others at the same intersection and it was a good result compared to them.

Paul was following me in so I quickly explained how it worked for me and he followed me in for about 4.37m drop. That will teach me for playing as a team!

It was then a climb out to 2800ft to get over to the first JDG. The approach was almost identical but many people were struggling with it. I played it a little bit more to the south and tracked straight in for a drop of what looked like less than 3m. As far as I know it is second place on that task.

Paul also did really well on the JDG but was bumped off right near the end. It still should score ok.

The third task was a waste of time. The JDG was set too far south an nobody could get to it. We all hung around about 1.5km to the north waiting for the wind to change and when it did we kept going north. In the end everyone gave up with a bout half an hour to go.

So what does it mean? No idea. I am pretty sure I beat a few of the people I needed to. I have to be in the top ten some where but no idea how far up two near perfect results will get me. It is all down to how the others did. Fingers crossed.

I have lots of great photos to put on flickr so look out for those.

Key grab this afternoon so time to try and add a car to prize package!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saga - 5th of November Pre-flight

So today is the big day.

The results are up to date and I have had a spectacular fall from great heights. Currently I am in 11th place and really need to do well today to have any chance of climbing up a few more places.

As I half expected with the top end so crowded and close on points, the poor PDG yesterday and missing the fly in were enough to wipe me out.

The key Japanese pilots made it into both last nights fly in and yesterday mornings so they have streaked ahead.The good news is that given good results this morning I can still get back into the money.

4th place is only 481 points away which is achievable in three tasks with some luck. The top three are from 713 to 1238 points away which given the pilots holding the places are not very
likely to slip up enough to catch.

Paul is now only 66 points behind me so the chase is on.

Wish me luck and don't worry - this is still only fun. Motegi is the real goal.

Saga - 4th AM post flight

What can I say about this flight? Challenging?

Three tasks again, Pilot declared goal, fly in and judge declared goal. The winds looked very slow but the minimum distances were huge at about 5km from the fly in.

Due to the direction you could either go slow and low from the North east or go high and faster from the North west. Our wind readings put the North west winds very close to the maximum altitude of 4000ft and so I made a late gamble and drove back to the east to try the lower winds.

Paul stuck with the high winds which in the end was the better bet in theory if you got it right. Unfortunately for both of us we both flew what we had badly. I was late taking off and Paul just had some bad luck on his approach the the Fly in.

I ran out of time on my PDG and ended up dropping 830m before it then flew past it on the way to the fly in. The fly in was interesting because we were slipping off to the north of the scoring area and had to go high to get some movement to the south. At about the same time Paul was dropping in from above on the North westerly wind but came in too soon. Next thing both of us are back up at 3000 ft making a correction.

As the clock counted down, I got held up in my descent by a “standard” balloon that was underneath me descending at a bout 900ft/min. I could not get off the top of him to speed up and make my approach down low. I estimate it wasted 100m of distance away from where I wanted/intended to be.

The end result? At maybe 50m form the edge of the scoring area and too far to throw the marker, the time ran out and so a no result for me. Paul also had to throw but missed the scoring area by 2m. No result for him too.

If there is good news it is that only a hand full of balloons got into the scoring area. Most were well off to the North trying to get south still. With so many outside the group B score will be very high.

Onto the JDG (back to 3000ft) and the real fun begins. The task sheet called for a 100m scoring area around the target. It was looking very much like time and direction were against us and that no one was going to get there.

We got within 550m and there was some discussion because Paul thought that he had cancelled the scoring area. As a precaution we dropped our markers but it was no good. The scoring area was in force and only one person made it in.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Saga - 4th PM flight

An afternoon flight, I had almost forgotten what they were.

Finally the wind has turned around from the south for a safe and predictable afternoon flight. As always it was a fly into a scoring area and the marker was to be a gravity drop. In fact we have not had a single free throw all week.

The task had a limited scoring area so getting in the "box" about 80m wide and 500m long was the only way to get a good result.

From this direction things are very predictable and as always taking off from the south east makes for a nice flight in at around 2000 ft. It is almost like clockwork when the afternoon breeze blows in this direction - at least for those of us who have flown here before. Every time people get caught out by taking off too far south and slip off to the east as the afternoon goes on.

So with such brazen talk of local knowledge you would think a winning result was in my next paragraph. Sadly not.

As luck would have it I ended up in traffic again and did not make my decent until slightly too late. The thin edge of the scoring box was the side that we were all approaching the target so you had a narrow window to get down from 2000ft to turn left into the scoring zone.

Fortunately I know the rules by now and knew that if I could get close enough to throw it in to the scoring area I would receive a penalty of 50m added to my result. In the worst case scenario I will be 200 points better off than the folks who missed altogether.

There are some other things that come into play here so we have to hope that less than half of the field got a result. I did not see many markers so It should all work out.

It is an interesting end to the competition. The results have been all messed up with lots of people getting bad scores this morning and then who knows what happened tonight. The scores have been slow getting published so no one really knows who is winning.

It will all come down to tomorrow morning and the last flight.

Tonight is the Sanyamachi party where we get treated to food, beer and entertainment in a sports field. Interestingly you never see the Japanese pilots here - maybe it is a trap for the foreign pilots so we are not as sharp on the last morning? Anyhow it is good fun and ends early enough. Watch out for the push button sake - you push a button on the base of the can and it heats up for you. If you don't like drinking warm sake, it makes a great hand warmer.

The collection of people to party with this year is very small so I expect it will be an early night. Timotey (and Tem chan) where are you? Saga is not the same without sake partners.

Saga - 4th November AM

Good Morning. Results for yesterday have turned up but for some reason there is not a total.

I have done some quick sums on the top ten and it looks like I only dropped one place yesterday. The second target got lots of god results so my 50 odd meters was about the median result and paid 550 points. The good news is that some of the top ten also had an average result in there which means that not much changed around.

Nemeth Zoltan from Hungary is on fire and got 2nd and then 1st on the tasks. This has given him a little lead going into today.

He is a great pilot. A few years back when I finished 3rd here, he beat me for second place by only 13 points. He is always near the top so lets hope I can reverse it this year.

From what I think is 6th place, I am 466 points behind 1st and only 157 points from 2nd so it is still very tight at the top end and very achievable.

First place is 1.5million yen, 2nd is 800,000 yen, 3rd is 500,000 yen, 4th is 300,000 yen, 5th is 200,000 yen and 6th to 10th place pays 100,000 yen.

Well worth doing a little better!

Lets hope we get four markers this morning (I am betting it will be only three).

Saga -3rd of November PM

A wonderful afternoon flight was cancelled this afternoon.

A Fly in was called and the winds would have had us approach the launch field from the west. Surface winds were a little high to start of with but looked like they were slowing down to the point that event getting to the target may have been an issue - especially if we need to go high for steerage where the speed was very slow.

I was just about to start the fan when the pager went off saying that the flight was cancelled. It was a real bummer as we had a great launch site and felt we were in the correct location for a good result. The funny thing is that I don't mind the flight being cancelled as much as not knowing if all the planning and work we do leading up to the flight was correct...

Still no results from this morning which is annoying. How hard can it be to score two tasks?

The task setting has been a little disappointing as we have fantastic weather for the first time in many years here in Saga and it looks like we may only fly 15 tasks...it should be more like 20. Nothing I can do but it is a shame to see the flights wasted.

We celebrated the night off with a home cooked meal at Mizuho's house. Paul cooked Spaghetti for us all. Her father is very funny.

It was then off to the Laundromat to get some clothes cleaned and now time to sleep again.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Saga Flight #4 – 3rd of November AM

What a nice morning! The wind direction did not give the director much room to set tasks today as we were flying south east towards the Ariake Sea and the Saga airport CTA.

Only two tasks were called, Pilot declared goal and Fly on. It was also a solo task to put pressure on those pilots who normally fly with a navigator. Fortunately I can still take my trusty Tablet so navigations is not an issue.

The winds required us to climb out to about 1200ft to get the correct track. With lots of available steerage it was probably the easiest flight to plan that I have had in a while.

The approach over the PDG was nice and low level and a 4.27m drop should get some points.

I got an unlucky change in the surface wind on the Fly on and drifted out to 52.8m which will not be so good in these conditions. I have already heard some good results.

The new camera got a big work out so the photos are available on Flickr.

I am feeling very relaxed with the flying and the new balloon is great! All I need is my Tem chan on the ground and everything would be perfect. My local crew guy Yosh is being worked very hard and is very excited that we are at the correct end of the results.

Paul and I are working very well together and the flow of information is really working well between us. I hope we can keep it up in Motegi as it really helps push us both forwards. I think Paul was about 35m and 19m on his two tasks this morning.

My crew for the morning, Yoshiko has a family restaurant which we will probably eat at for lunch. Always nice to eat at a real traditional Japanese restaurant rather than the Dennys inspired fast food.

Results online

Good morning. 0520 hrs here and about to get off to the morning briefing and thought I would check the website for results.

Finally, the Saga website has the results pages up. It looks like they have the scores for yesterday morning which I have been waiting for.

A wise man (a sports psychologist) once said that once the flight is over you can’t change the score. I have to agree but I still get curious.

Most of the Saga web site is in Japanese which is always a challenge but I have found the link straight to the results. I am writing this as I wait for the Japanese font pack to download for Acrobat – sorry but you will probably have to do the same.

Anyhow go to here http://www.sibf.jp/fiesta/score/22_pacific.html to see how I am going

Woo hoo! the fonts are installed and it was worth the wait. Looks like this morning was almost everything I hoped for. 5th place over all and only 100 points from the lead. Wish me luck for the this morning!

Oops I did it again..

Ok, I am not sure how this happens. I went out to get some dinner and ended up in a new electronics store just opening in Saga. It is a huge chain store called DeoDEO.

These places are giant and have everything from light bulbs and heated toilet seats to every digital toy you ever dreamed of.

My dream has been for a digital SLR of the Canon variety. I have been trying to find a way to get the right price/justify one for some time and Japan in the past has been great for cheap digital cameras -especially recently superseded models.

I had looked at the 350D (known as the Kiss Digital N in Japan) as it had just been superseded by the 400D. Unfortunately every price I had found was no better than in Australia at over $1100 AUD. The Canon RRP is $1499. In short, a lot of $$$$

Until tonight at this new shop. Sitting on the SALE bench were 5 brand bew 350D's with the lens kit at the equivalent of AUD740.00

You can't even find them second hand on ebay for that!

So did I buy one? What do you think...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Morning flight video

Just uploaded a new video from this mornings flight to Youtube. It is very short as I was a bit busy in the competition.

The flight was a PDG, JDG and FON - in english that is pilot declared goal, judge declared goal and fly on tasks. Basicaly we all launched from the same spot and had to fly to a goal we chose (declared) before launch. This had to be between 4 and 6 kilometers form the launch point.

We then had to go onto a goal declared by the officials (the JDG) and before arriving at that had to declare our goal for the fly on task.

The winds were a bit fickle so it was hard work today but I got 12.6m on the PDG which will get some high points - somewhere around 900 to 950 out of 1000 I hope. The JDG was missed by most people and I am mid field with about 1100m. During the Fly on everything changed again so I only got 123m for it. I have no idea if that is good or bad yet, it will depend on how many people got caught out.

I am going to try and get a bit more expanation as to what I am doing into a few more videos so keep tuned to see what it is all about.

Where am I

Ok, probably the most common question....Why a blog?

I suppose "why not" is the correct answer.

I am lucky enough to do some travelling and fly balloons in interesting places so I figured that this was an easy place to update friends and family on my trips and results.

So here I am in Saga Japan, again for the Pacific Championships and as my warm up for the 2006 Worlds to be held in Motegi.

We are at day two of the competition and the afternoon flight has just been cancelled due to high winds and a direction that would have taken the 100 or so balloons off over town and into the Saga airport control zone. Not fun. It is a great chance to get some rest and start a blog...

Photos are being put on flickr and videos onto Youtube so you can get them there as I get a chance to upload them.

Unfortunately I have no idea if Internet access will be as frequent in Motegi in a few weeks time but I will see what I can do.

Time to get some dinner and rest before another flight in the morning.