Virginia (cont'd)

 

 

Shadows began to lengthen across the countryside. I started looking for a place to land. There were some empty pastures off to the Northwest along my present line. Roland backtracked east to get on the road that would take him there.

 

 

I set up a gradual descent that took me over houses and fields, past a golf course and a school. Releasing a few drops of ballast to clear one final line of trees, I floated down into an empty pasture. Roland and our crew volunteer Michael jogged over from the adjoining field and followed me the last few feet to a perfect landing.

 

 

 

 

We walked the balloon over by a road that cut thorugh the field. A trio of older gentlemen and their wives were watching from a car that had pulled up by the fence. One of them made the mistake of asking if we could use help, to which we responded with an enthusiastic "Yes!" -- putting away the cluster balloon being much easier with a few extra helpers.

Good-naturedly they clambered over the fence into the pasture. One of them was celebrating a birthday that day, so we got him to get into my harness and put him up on tether. Then, with their help, we began deflating and bursting the balloons. They asked about the cluster balloon, and I told them a bit about my project. One of them said he'd had some balloon-related projects under him in the Air Force, but nothing quite like this.

 

It was getting dark by the time we finished putting the equipment away. We said good-bye to the three men who had helped us, and headed back to Long Branch. There was a dinner for the balloonists that night, where we all shared our impressions of the pleasant afternoon flight.

* * *

 

As an interesting postscript, back home a few days later, I received an e-mail with the photos of my landing that appear above, and the following message:

 

John,

It was a pleasure meeting you as you descended to a field in Boyce, Virginia last Saturday afternoon. Attached are a few pictures I took. Use them as you desire.
Enjoy! And, thank you for giving my brother-in-law a tethered ride.

Best,
James G. Roche
20th Secretary of the US Air Force

 

I did some Googling and found pictures of the former Secretary of the Air Force Dr. James G. Roche, who was indeed one of the men who had helped us put away the cluster balloon. Bemused, I wrote back:

 

Dear Dr. Roche,

Thanks for the great photos, and for your assistance with deflating the cluster balloon. I recall your mentioning an affiliation with the Air Force, but hadn't realized the level of your service.

The balloonists were a bit concerned that afternoon that the wind would take us east over the ridge into the Washington D.C. ADIZ airspace to meet the F-16s. Meeting a former Secretary of the Air Force was not quite as memorable, but no doubt much better for my health and longevity.

Best wishes,

John Ninomiya

 

 

Celebration XLI

Crew Chief: Roland Escher
Chase Balloon Pilot: Jan Miller
Chase Crew: Michael Felner

Special Thanks to: Shenandoah Valley Hot-air Balloon and Wine Festival (Jodie Yarrison-Popio, Marsha Treacy, Gene Irish); inflation crew volunteers; Airgas (Winchester, VA).

Photographs: Beth Kilgore, Jan Miller, Teri Lee, Greg Livadas, James Roche, Treacy Beltz, Roland Escher, John Ninomiya

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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