February 28, 2009

CLAS Safety Seminar

Today, at the New England Air Museum. Mostly, a day of hanging out and listening to talks about ballooning and safety. Not a lot of new ground, but a nice refresher. My first such seminar; not sure if I will make it a regular thing, but its a nice chance to catch up with the balloon peeps during the off season.

The keynote / special guest was Don Piccard, who has a bunch of pet projects and associated websites. He is purportedly "The father of modern sport hot-air ballooning." and his biography certainly supports that. His history goes back as far as Lakehurst NJ (remember the Hindenburg?) and although he was a wee bit young for that particular event, he worked there, knew people who witnessed that, and has his theories about the event. So very interesting to listen to him.

He has two pet projects going. The XAP (eXtreme Altitude Project) is a proposed hybrid hot-air / gas balloon intended to fly to 150,000 feet (yes, that's nearly 30 miles up) into the mesosphere. Really interesting stuff (the concept, the technical challenges) although I have yet to really understand the switch-over from the gas bags (which can / will be cut away upon descent) and the hot-air system. Never did quite understand that.....but it sounds like a critical piece.

And finally, he is working on an affordable gas balloon (using Hydrogen or Methane gas) called the Piccard Pleiades - he's quite the salesman for the sport of gas ballooning (far less pedestrian than regular old hot air ballooning).

Hope I'm that spry and have so much passion and drive at 83. It was neat to meet him.

There were other presentations - a piece on crew safety (by local friends), a bit on pilot decision making by Bill Huighes of the Liberty Balloon School, and a nice overview of reading the weather by Mark Schilling, who put together a weather website for CLAS members. And the requisite number of scare stories about various accidents (real and imagined) to keep the pilots and crew honest.

I've been crewing for hot air balloons for almost 25 years, and have never witnessed a serious incident. But things do happen. So best to be prepared.....

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