Thursday, December 28, 2006

Ho Ho Hum

Christmas is done and it now time to relax for a few days.

I was lucky enough to spend the last week on the yacht with a nice late night sail from Pitwater to Sydney on Christmas night followed by the start of the Sydney to Hobart on Boxing day.

The start is always fun and as we were positioned near the first mark at the heads, we got great views as the big boats steamed past in the brisk South Easterly wind. A few attempted a spinnaker run up the harbour which made for some extra excitement as they attempted to drop them at the mark before coming on the breeze to exit the heads.

Wild Oats 11 was the first out and was absolutely flying along. It amazing what 98ft and 14million dollars of Yacht can do. Currently they look on target to get line honours for the second year running.

All the results are online at :

Monday, December 18, 2006

Grab a Coke...

Just been trawling the net and bumped into a link, which took me to a site that had this little story about what-happens-to-your-body-if-you-drink-a-coke-right-now.

As with any info on the net, take this with a large dose of salt unless you can trust the source. I know I have not researched it any further than the thoughts outlined below.

Firstly, it made me wonder if adding Bundy Rum to the coke makes it better for you or not??? I am guessing not but hey, what else are you going to drink after dehydrating on a yacht for a few hours?

Secondly it reminds me of the bit in Fight Club where Edward Norton finds the short stories about body parts written in the first person.

"I am Jack's medulla oblongata, without me Jack could not regulate his heart rate, blood pressure or breathing!"

An odd segue to a great movie but that is how my brain works some time. I am off to do an experiment with a stopwatch and a cool glass of Bundy and you know what...

Last balloon for 2006

My real job is building balloons, not just flying them. The bummer of this is that more often than not, I get to go through all the excitement of getting up early, dragging a balloon out of the bag and inflating it but then don't get to do the fun bit...

You see it is normally someone else's new balloon. Instead of flying away - the bit that makes the getting up early really worth it - we go through a long and detailed check list to make sure it has not been sewn together inside out or upside down and that all the strings pull on the right bits. We then deflate it and put it back in the bag.

When the weather has been poor as it can be this time of year (for balloon nuts or anyone living near ready to burn bush..) this can mean coming in like we did on Sunday morning to do the test inflation because that is the only day that looks like a chance.

The kicker is four of us packing away a 300,000 cu.ft balloon designed to have 16 happy passengers stuff it in the bag. Talk about a great way to start a Sunday.

The photo is of the offending beast in the photo is for Bob Lye on the Gold Coast. It is leaving on a truck in the morning and will be cashing in Christmas balloon flight vouchers by the fist full soon after.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

And finally, monsieur, a wafer-thin mint.

I just had to quote Mr Creosote. After all Christmas came early last night and with it all of the over eating and accompanying stomach pains.

Many thanks to Deb, Scotty, Vic and Blake for a fantastic pre-Christmas dinner. I will not need to eat again for a few days at the very least. I am still holding my gut as I type this and the meal was 24 hours ago.

For anyone not familiar with the scene from Monty Python - The meaning of Life, some nice person has put it up on youTube.

Warning: If you are easily offended, do not like vomit or great humor then do not click on the link below.

Other than that, we are in the final run to the Christmas break and flat out at work getting the few last balloons out the door before the holidays.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Day of the Triffids

A classic movie on ABC tonight - the 1962 adaption of John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids.

I was very excited to see this was going to be on as I enjoyed the book many many years ago and had fond memories of the 1981 BBC mini series. Unfortunately these old movies just don't live up to expectations (or maybe they really do..) and we have spent the majority of the time laughing out loud at the poor acting and woeful special effects.

As it is a school night, I going to give up and get some sleep! It just can't hold my attention any longer. I can't even bring myself to start the VCR.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Collisions part 2

Great to see that this has kicked off some chat. At some point soon I will try and move this discussion over the Competitors subcommittee. In the mean time great to see other event directors such as Cees passing comment here. Welcome!

I agree with Cees that we don't want to make more work for the officials but the speed limit that Les imposed in Motegi did just that and as such I don't see it as a viable solution for that reason alone.

My idea of harsher penalties is aimed at moving the pressure onto the pilots to comply. If there is no collision then there is no work for the officials and we can zip up an down as fast as we want/need knowing that if we cause or are involved in a collision then the slower we are going the safer and cheaper in points it will be.

As strange as it sounds, self preservation does not seem to be a strong enough deterrent. To some of these guys the points are all that matters. Even the low altitude bumps happening at targets are showing that right now they have no problem doing it right in front of the officials.

If the penalty was there on paper then maybe they would think twice about it.

Also just put this panorama together from the last cash prize flight - Gosh I hope we get to go back there....

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Collision and Climb/Descent rates

I have had some time to think about this. I still don't have an answer for the problem and I am sure I am far from the first person to be thinking about this but here are some observations and ideas from the week in Motegi.

The number of collisions during the 2006 worlds was far from acceptable and was definitely much higher than I have ever seen at an event. In desperation the event director imposed a limit of 600 ft/min on climbs and descents with the threat of penalties for reckless flying if the speeds were found to be broken based on logger data.

For anyone not in the know, all balloons were carrying a Garmin Geko 301 GPS to log the barometric altitude and balloon position every 5 seconds during each flight. This data is then downloaded and analysed for infringement of airspace and prohibited zones as well as confirmation of launch and landing data. Exactly how much is looked at by the scorers for each flight I don't know and won't profess to know. The data is also used to reconstruct any incidents such as collisions.

The analysis of the track data for monitoring vertical speeds would no doubt be an extra challenge in time and manpower for the officials.

Anyhow, as previously mentioned the speed limit was controversial in that some people did not want it at all while others were happy to have it as it made them feel safer in the sky. For me the question is did it work and if so was it the speed limit that made things safer or the threat of a penalty?

My impression from the two flights where the speed limit was in place was that they felt a lot calmer and a little more relaxed in the sky than some other flights. Balloons were moving around a lot slower than we had previously seen but it is also important to note that the weather on those two flights also seemed to require less big vertical adjustments than we had seen on other flights. In the morning flight, higher altitudes were used later in the flight but it was all happening so slowly that a high speed vertical adjustment was not really of any advantage.

The afternoon flight could have seen more speed being used in climbs and descents but most balloons ended up with a low altitude crawl to the target so again I am not sure if there would have been much use of vertical speed on that flight.

Interestingly during the CIA debriefing it was revealed that there were a high number of minor infringements of the speed limit and a few larger ones. In the end there were no penalties applied because it was obvious that everyone was trying to comply with a very new performance limitation and that it had the desired effect on everyones behavior.

The key question is whether the speed limit made most people behave or was it the threat of penalties in the last few flights of a World Championship?

I think that if anything, the current rule book has shown that the correct penalties have a drastic effect on behavior. Pilots will avoid penalties in any way they can as penalties are a sure fire way to make sure you can't win. As such I think that a better set of fixed penalties will curb flying that causes collisions.

Currently the rules allow up to 1000 competition points for each balloon involved. Maybe this needs to be higher and some fixed penalties for fixed vertical speeds.

An example bouncing around in my mind is as follows:
500 competition points for any balloon in a collision with a speed up to 300ft/min in the previous 20 seconds before collision,
1000 points for 300 to 450 ft/min.
1500 points for 450 to 550 ft/min.
2000 points for 550 to 700 ft/min.
In the event of a collision where the speed of a particular balloon was in excess of 700 ft/min or damage to a balloon results, the collision should be considered as willful interference with another competitor and penalised under rule 13.1, unsporting behavior.