Tuesday, September 23, 2008


It has taken a few days to find an internet connection again. Indeed I am now at Vienna airport and waiting to check in for the flight home.

The last flight that I had been hoping for was on then off again.

Unfortunately for a number of us, it was not actually canceled until we were in the air and getting smacked around in turbulence.

The crazy thing was that I was having fun! Sure it was fast and the cut grass fields between all the forest and maize looked awfully small at 30km/h but it slowed down in places and since we were already flying it seemed a shame not to get to throw our markers.

I did have one moment with the balloon bent in half in a wind shear and was wondering if I was going to get smacked into the trees below. Andrew and Camilla said it looked like I was hung on a powerline because it was all lent over so bad.

After passing the launch site and getting the message via SMS that the flight was now canceled, my first landing opportunity was actually at one of the HWZ goals so I landed there and the target officials helped me pack up.

It was a stand up landing on the road and ended any chance of improving on my position of 49th - the median rank, right in the middle of the pack. Not happy Jan!

It was an interesting week, from not being interested in going at all to all pumped up and ready to go. Intrigued and annoyed at not having observers and using loggers only to convinced that logger only competitions are very bland (despite my inability to fly it well).

I have to admit that not having to stuff about finding and measuring markers was nice and made for much easier days BUT it felt like it was somehow lacking. The lack of fly on tasks and the pressure they bring and also the opportunity to correct for your own mistakes with a good fly on selection have me convinced that observers are a good thing.

It will be interesting to see what time and evolution of the new rules brings or if observers will be bought back into the mix as more and more pilots complain about their absence.

I have to thank Andrew, Yosh and Camilla for all their hard work during the week. They got me in the air and back for breakfast, lunch or dinner every day. Kept me smiling when the results were not what I wanted and focused the moment my mind wanted to wander to warmer, sunnier places. Thanks guys, you are legends.

So what is next? I have a few days once I get home to prepare for the Ceroc Australia Championships in Sydney where Charlie and I are in three events including a showase that we have yet to finish rehearsing. Panicing much???

Having won intermediate/advanced at the Ceroc and Modern Jive Champs a few months back, the pressure is on the back it up with another win before we have to move onto advanced for next years round of competitions.

Go, go, go!

PS: photo was stolen from the 2008 Worlds picasa album - not sure who's it is but it pretty well shows what we were doing all week if we flew!

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wish come true

It looks like the weather may have just opened a small window for one last flight.

I am sitting in the briefing tent having just planned my flight and am waiting for the official briefing and roll call to start.

The tasks are a fly in and hesitation waltz. The fly in is to the launch field and the HWZ has five goals .

We are expecting fast winds to arrive on the surface early so we need to get the flight over and done with as quick as we can.

I am expecting the typical close results on the targets so need to fly this really well to move back up the list.

We need another flight

Friday afternoons flight has been canceled due to high winds.

Results are up from the morning flight and it looks like it was as bad as I expected.

From four tasks I managed to get under 1000 points, putting me back to 47th place. If we don't get another flight in the morning that is where it will end.

Not much else to say really.

Going, going.....gone

Well the lack of blog posts are due to the fact that we have been flying and sleeping and not much else.

After all the canceled flights and a single flight back on Wednesday, Thursday finally turned it on with a full day of flights.

The AM flight on Thursday was a full five tasks. Our results for those were slightly better than they felt from the basket and in the end we had a healthy 3800 points from the possible 5000 including a task win for me with a 1.35m result.

The PM flight saw another three markers on the table at briefing. Again, conditions were challenging and the field was split with half attempting the two hesitation waltz tasks first while the others opted to try the fly-in part of the flight first.

I picked up two great hesitation waltz results, both around the 7m mark for 989 and 988 points for each. The fly-in part of the task did not work for me but the 418 points was still better than nothing.

At the end of the day we were in 13th place, up from 65th after day 1.

Friday morning and we had another four tasks to fly.

Unfortunately nothing really went to plan today and I am not looking forward to seeing the results.

The first task was pilot declared goal which I missed by about 150m - not good when the first 20 places are generally within 10m of the target.

This had me set up too far to the right for the next hesitation waltz goal which I thne missed by 600m. Again pretty depressing when you can see the pile of markers around the target from the other competitors.

The third task was a fly in to the field for a minimum distance double drop. There was complicated little scoring area and the job was to drop two markers as close together as you can but with each in a separate box marked on the field.

I saw it off in the distance somewhere but never go closer than about 4km. Fortunately I think only about 10 people did.

The final task was an elbow where we had to cross a road, fly for 15 minutes then achieve the greatest change in direction we could after flying for another 15 minutes. Flying right back on yourself or 180 degrees change in direction is best.

We had a cunning plan based on all the winds going the wrong direction I had already found during the morning.

It did not work. We achieved about 56 degrees change in direction and have heard of plenty of others who got the 180 degrees.

Right now it is time to get some sleep and hope that we get the last two flights in this competition before the weather turns to crap again. It is already quite windy outside so we will just have to wait and see if we get any more flying.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Competition has started

Finally we are off and flying.

Despite the high winds I was talking about before the briefing, the event director David Levin sent us out for two tasks with the expectation that surface winds would remain reasonable until about 0830.

As this is an observer less competition there is no scope for pilot declared goals like we would normally have. As such all targets are selected by the director and in the case of this flight we had two hesitation waltz tasks with three goals available for each.

The goals all have a Marker Scoring Area (MSA) set that you can drop your marker in for a measured result. If you are outside the MSA your result is the 3D distance as calculated from your GPS logger.

All balloons launched from the main common launch point. Winds right in the surface were slow but quickly picked up speed as you climbed much more than 100 feet or so.

Approaching the first goal, the MSA was a soccer field (Goal 704). I was located a little to far to the left for a good approach so opted for one of the second two targets (705 & 706) where I could keep the approach nice and low. A small shift in the winds had me fighting to get to either of the targets which were located about 190m apart.

In the end I flew pretty well right down the middle of the two for a GPS scored result. Not really what I wanted while watching markers pile up on the other targets.

The screen capture from my tablet shows it and the photo at the top of this post is it in reality with goal 706 in the foreground and 705 behind it.

Once clear of task one, I climbed into the faster upper winds to set up task two.

The first available target was rushing up and was off to the right of my track. A quick descent to ground level put me into a wind direction that took me right to the goal for an approximately 8m drop.

Was it a good morning? Not really results wise but bloody good to be flying after all this time. The full track log is shown below with goals 721, 722 & 730 making up task 2.

Austria 2008 Flight 1 - 17th August AM

Wednesday Morning

Time for some live bloging.

We have just arrived at the briefing tent on day 4 of the competition. It is 0521 and the briefing starts at 0530.

During the drive down the hill we watched the trees thrash about and wondered if it could really be calm in the valley.

It is calmer but not what I would expect to be flyable right now. It will be interesting to see what happens, if anything in these conditions.

As a team we are having fun. I have never traveled so far or paid so much to play Yahtze but such is ballooning.

Pardon the crappy picture, it is from my web cam but shows the crowd of bored pilots :)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Austria = rain

Right now there is lot of things I could say about Austria and ballooning but none of them are nice so I am going to try and explain what is happening here as politely as I can.

I would love to say that the photo of Edwin to the left was from today's flight but it was actually from the practice week.

We are now at day two of the competition and have yet to make a flight. Two SMS messages from the event director, one at about 4am canceling the morning briefing and another at 9.30am canceling the afternoon briefing have given us the day off to enjoy the area, all be it under a layer of cloud and rain.

Day one of the competition was also washed out by rain. We arrived for the morning briefing at 0530 with light rain falling on the windscreen of out van. Two markers and a task sheet were waiting for us with the flight to be two hesitation waltzes. Due to the rain we were put on hold for 45 minutes but finally the flight was canceled.

After a long morning of drinking coffee and hanging out we had a group photo with all of the teams and officials, probably about 500 people in total and taken by the most bizarre photographer I have ever met. His large format camera was poised on top of a massive tripod that required a ladder and much fiddling to set up.

To his credit he kept the whole crowd in place and entertained with his balancing act on the ladder and repeated calls for the crowd to "looooook to meeeeeeee!"

The afternoon flight was also put on hold multiple times as we waited for showers to pass the area. Eventually with many balloons half set up on the field the black flag was raised as more rain arrived. Interestingly two fiesta balloons were wandering into sight further up the valley and heading in the wrong direction for the goals that had been set.

The reasons for cancelling were pretty obvious. Despite some light rain, the low cloud base and massive change in direction would have put the field of 100 balloons into a dangerous situation, looking for the right direction in cloud. Not fun at all.

To entertain ourselves we got an invite to the team USA dinner and had lots of fun chatting to them all while Al Nells chatted on about taking 1st, 2nd and 3rd place in the competition. I have to admit I like their enthusiasm but intend on only letting them have places 2 and 3 at the end of the week.

So here we are back to this morning and more wind and rain. As I type this Andrew is Googling for a go kart track or paint ball so we can go and do something energetic before we go nuts.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Keeping busy

Ok, as I seem to be having problems finding time to blog right now, I am going to point you to Andrews blog for more words and photos....

I will lift my game, but for now Andrew is doing better while I get ready for the competition.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Practice Friday

We did another practice flight today. The organisers put ran a briefing and set two goal this morning. It was a great lesson in how the valley flows and changes as the morning develops.

We flew in from about 3.5km north west of the launch site and from the moment I was in the air it was obvious we were in the wrong side of the valley flow. I had set up near the center of the valley and as such had good speed and direction to a any other place than the actual goal I was trying to get to.

With that lesson learnt, I kept working at it despite being over time. Interestingly, the second goal proved to have the same issue for pretty well all of the other balloons. As the morning wore on everything in the valley stopped and went to waffle leaving only the gradient wind at altitude of any real use.

Weather wise it seems like we are in for another wonderful event in Austria with an amazing week of practice followed by a week of rain and wind during the actual competition. We are expecting it to turn bad on Saturday at this time but hoping to be proven wrong.

I am taking photos but so far the access to internet has been below average and with all the running around getting ready I have not downloaded any yet.

Also the link to the Worlds site for results etc. is now on the right or use this link.

Practice Time

After a few days cruising around Austria in a 3 series BMW it is now down to serious work for the World Championship.

We arrived in Hofkirchen on Wednesday afternoon and had a wonderful afternoon watching about 50 or so balloons fly out of the Schillieten Castle, the location of the Worlds back in 1987.

A quick trip Hartburg train station had our team swell to three with the arrival of Yosh.

Thursday morning was my first practice flight, launching from the Schillieten and flying down into the valley and lake at Stubenburg. Winds here have been very light and variable. There is great options for steering but you need to be patient and I think more importantly, into the sky early and working with what ever looks to be the fastest winds.

Camilla arrived on Thursday morning and it was off for another flight that evening.

This time I launched from the common launch point for the Worlds to have a look at that valley. I picked two goals and with a lot of work managed to score well on both.

An interesting thing is that I am flying this even solo for the duration. As such all of these practice flights are solo so I can get used to the performance of the balloon and my own company. I am loving the space in the basket and having the freedom to talk to myself with out anyone having to know that I do....

Sunday, September 07, 2008

2008 World Championship - Austria

Well folks, it is that ime of the year again when I pack my bags and balloon and head to the other side of the world for the Ballooning world Championship.

2008 has us in Austria, about half way between Vienna and Graz.  You can find it on google maps right here....

View Larger Map

The team this year is Andrew Roberston, Yosh Shigyo and Camilla Sorensen.  I am keeping it compact and simple.  With all crew as pilots (or nearly in the case of Yosh) it shoukd be a nice effecient team with everyone knowing what is going on.

I am not sure how I will go for updates during the event but will see what we can do to keep the information flowing.

Right now I have about 28 hours of movies and back cramps to deal with so see you on the other side of these flights.