BACAR-5 Feedback 21 October 2017
BACAR-5 was again held at the Trichardt Model Flyers airfield, outside of Secunda this past Saturday 21 October. The day started slow and easy, with many feet gathering from about 7 in the morning to start the last-minute preparations to their various payloads. It wasn’t long before the wind was staring to play up, all while the latex weather balloon was being inflated.
Soon the balloon was fueled, but it seemed way too early to be launched, besides, most of the payloads where not ready, as it always seems happen, Murphy was on the move again, many where battling with last minute adjustments. As a result, the inflation team had their latex glove covered hands full trying to keep the balloon stable, while the winds kept on blowing. It wasn’t long before the first puncture happened, when the balloon practically folded over Don ZS6SSR, as if it was planning to eat him, hooking on his wrist watch.
They valiantly tried to seal the puncture, but it was too late, the balloon succumbed and burst. Many where worried that the day was over, but the Secunda guys had more tricks up their sleeves. Another balloon was taken out and this time, they waited a little longer before inflating it, making sure the others were ready with their payloads.
Very soon, just after 10, the call came to rally, everyone proceeded to the airstrip, payloads neatly tied together with rope. The countdown began, and slowly one by one, the payloads lifted off, but oh-no, what is this, the last payload is not lifting off the ground! It turns out that the balloon did not have the lifting power for all the payloads! I suppose if this was a Star Trek movie, one could say “Scotty, We Need More Power!” The launch team ran behind the limping balloon to catch it.
Without risking more damage to the 2nd balloon, the Secunda team brought their trailer containing the Hydrogen tanks to the launch site. Quick work was done adding some more oomph, and soon we were ready for take-off attempt number 2! Everyone lined up and the countdown once more began. It was a sight to see, the balloon taking off with power and speed, dragging the poor payloads behind it like an angry mother with her disobedient kids.
It climbed and soared into the cloudy sky until it vanished behind a blanket of clouds, all under 5 minutes. This meant one thing, the chase was on! If it took off that quickly, it was already traveling at an astonishing rate by now.
Oh but old man Murphy was not done yet, the chase teams at the airfield had trouble getting their equipment ready, taking at least 10 more minutes before they deployed, I was one of them, having to connect the laptop to the radio to receive the aprs packets, then making sure the I-gate was on the same frequency so as to push the packets to the Internet for everyone else to see… I will admit, the stress was a little high…
We eventually got going, a convoy of vehicles all heading out towards Bethal, as the first packets came in. The balloon was storming ahead at 177Kmph. Unbeknown to us at the time, Leon and Henry where prepared and they were hot on its tail.
Our convoy, comprised of Myself and Phillip ZS6PAJ, Don ZS6SSR, Hannes ZS6EMS and Ettiene ZS6ET in the TATA, as well as Shane ZS6W along with his Son and Connel ZS6CNP in the Toyota, steamed on the N17. Phillip made a few predictions and we decided which route to follow, it seemed like everything was just dandy, that old man Murphy decided to turn tail and run in fear of our Ham Radio Spirit.
But where we wrong, it wasn’t long before the balloon vanished off our screens. Typical chaos followed, oh no we thought, something must be wrong on our side!!! Why cannot we hear the balloon? Why is our equipment not functioning all of a sudden. We pulled over and the fiddling began, setting us back some more while the other chase teams carried on…
After more adjustments we where starting to wonder if the balloon fell, due to lack of any signals. So we decided to head to the area around Morgenson where the last position packet was heard. We where told en-route by Leon that they are also searching in that vicinity.
We passed Ermelo and decided to search coming form the north, while Leon and Henry was searching from the South. We eventually met up when the X-inna-box team had found the coordinates of where the balloon dropped its payload, somewhat 30 km south of Ermelo on the N11.
The race was on, the whole remainder of the chase team sped off to the coordinates, that turned out to be surprisingly close to Phillip ZS6PAJ’s original intercept point. The X-inna-box team had found the wreckage before we arrived and helped to guide us in.
We drove into the farmers property and realized that we had to cross the vaal river to get to the other side, the crash site was about 750m into the veld. Everyone ditched their vehicles and decided to cross the river on foot. I was stubborn of-course and insisted on crossing the river with my vehicle, which was done without issue. What however happened after that, well, as we say, what happens on the other side of the vaal river, stays on the other side of the vaal river…
What I can say is that we retrieved the payload and all safely returned to our vehicles, just in time as the rain started to fall. We all met up again at the Trichardt airfield where we discussed and debated all that happened during the day.
In close, we had tremendous fun, along with all the frustration faced, we learn a lot and I believe that we took with us valuable experience!
Here is to next time, to the great ham spirit and team work!