Florida (cont'd)

 

 

The last of the hot-air balloons landed at the small Winter Haven airport, while I continued south on my own. There was a somewhat larger airport to the south in Bartow -- nothing very big, but it had a control tower and a fair amount of traffic in and out. I'd hoped to avoid it, but my track had been SSE on the ground, turning to maybe SSW at 3,000 feet, so there wasn't any maneuvering I could do to avoid their airspace. I turned on my aircraft radio to the Bartow frequency, and listened to the aircraft in the pattern talking ot the tower. Someone reported a "bunch of balloons" to the north.

Taking that as my cue, I called the tower, and identified myself as "ultralight gas balloon" requesting permission to enter their airspace from the north. The controller was initially concerned, but when I told him I was at 2,800 feet, he seemed comfortable with the idea, and said just to call him if I descended below 2,000. He asked if there were a lot of other balloons with me-- which puzzled me until I remembered the other pilot's reporting a"bunch of balloons", which can be taken two ways. I told him I was the only one.

 

 

Eagle Lake

 

 

 

 

I ended up going right over the center of the Bartow airport. I stayed high as instructed, and had no problems with the airplanes, that were mostly below me. Bartow tower continued to mention to aircraft entering the pattern that I was around. Once I was a few miles to the south, I asked the tower for permission to begin descending. As I was exiting their airspace, I saw a small airplane heading north, and on the radio: "There's this big bunch of balloons floating by me -- is there someone attached to that?!" I waved to him. Airplane guys just don't get enough excitement.

 

 

 

Bartow, FL

 

I passed to the east of the city of Bartow, still heading SSW. As I descended I began to pick up a bit more speed and my track curved back a bit to the east, until at 500 feet I was headed SSE at about 15 mph.

I had left the area with all the lakes, and was passing over what appeared to be mostly pasture land -- an interesting reminder that the state was once a leading producer of beef. I flew along at a few hundred feet, enjoying the countryside and offering words of encouragement to my chase crew on the radio. Bob was trying to get out ahead of me, but the pastures were huge, and the roads relatively sparse. They did manage to get onto an east-west road in front of me at one point, but the gate into the neighboring field was locked, so I flew on. These things always look a lot easier from the air than from the ground.

After half an hour, I was approaching the town of Fort Meade. Descending a bit to test the wind, I slowed down substantially once I was within a hudred feet or so of the ground, but above that I was still clipping along at 15 mph. Crew had gone out ahead of me to try to find another east-west road intersecting my track. Ahead, I saw some farm buildings, and a paved road fairly close to a large pasture. I described the location to Bob, figuring that there couldn't be that many paved roads in the area -- it was the first I'd seen in a several miles, anyway. I had decided that I wanted to be on the ground pretty soon, before the wind up above dropped down to the ground.

I was leveling out low over a some trees just before the pasture, when Bob radioed that they were on the road I'd described and had me in sight. I crossed the trees and cut away a few balloons to set up my descent. Some cows saw me coming and wisely got out of the way. I was relieved to find my speed dropping to about 5 mph as I descended into the field. I could see Bob running in from the gate to the road. I set down gently, and Bob ran up to grab me.

 

Just a few minutes later, while we were walking out of the field, the wind picked up to around 10 mph. Bob and one of our local crew volunteers both had told hold onto me to keep me from dragging down the field. I was glad that I'd landed when I had. We put the cluster away as quickly as we could, and I went over to thank the rancher whose cows I had startled for the use of his pasture.

 

Then we all got into the vehicles and headed back to Fantasy of Flight, pleased with the successful flight and chase. I had traveled 28 miles, in about 2 hours and 15 minutes -- one of my longer flights, and certainly one of the most scenic. It was a wonderful way to spend a morning, aloft with my helium-filled oranges over Florida. As they say, a day without cluster ballooning is like a day without sunshine.

 

 

Celebration LIV

Crew Chief: Bob Dunnington

Special Thanks to: Roar 'n' Soar, Florida State Hot-air Balloon Championship (Bob Carlton, event manager; Bill Manuel, balloonmeister), Fantasy of Flight (Kermit Weeks), Polk County Sports Marketing (Dawn Decaminada), Marjorie Walters, Edie Dunnington, Inflation Volunteers

Photography: Marjorie Walters, John Ninomiya

 

 

 

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