I got up Wednesday the March 5, and dialed up ZFX-Weather by FAX for my daily 60 hour prognosis chart. Things were shaping up for a Friday morning Long Jump attempt. Friday March 7, dawned clear and cold as predicted. My lovely wife Beth had to work that evening so, without any local crew, I set out at 4:00 a.m. for my 3 1/2 hour drive to Berne, Indiana, the small town South of Fort Wayne, which I had selected as my launch site.
Pre-flight planning the previous evening had shown a likely track of 130-135 degrees True (Winds backing with altitude) and put the notion in my head that I could try to fly to my sister Patty's farm in Rocky Mount, Virginia. I called her and we coordinated a rendezvous along her package delivery route in the vicinity of Roanoke. She gave me the phone number to her dispatcher so I could arrange a "pick-up" when l landed.
Several weeks earlier I had prepared Sub Hunter, my 430 hour Cameron model O-84, for my yearly Long Jump attempt. The envelope is showing it's age and somewhat porous and I knew I would not go very far given the predicted winds aloft and the 40 gallon official Long Jump limitation, so I decided to make a Max Distance/Max Fuel flight to best my personal records. My weather planning included getting ZFX 60 hour and 36 hour prognosis charts, winds aloft chart, surface wind and cloud cover chart. I augmented this data with a DUATS briefing to cover my launch/landing sites and flight path.
As I approached Fort Wayne, I missed the turn off to Berne and I continued Southwest along the Interstate. I then stumbled onto the small village of Roanoke (Indiana)! Ah!! How about a Roanoke to Roanoke flight!!... I realized that I was not far enough south to give me a good line to my sister's farm, but I elected to get in the air and see if I could get a turn to correct back to my pre-flight course.
An unexpected broken cloud deck at approximately 8,000 feet moved in and obscured the rising sun as I sought out an appropriate launch venue. I finally settled on a small cut hay field behind a barn on the property of Nathan and Christy Hambelton. Their son Dalton expertly supervised my inflation.
At 8:22 a.m. I started my climb in clear, cool air to my initial cruise altitude. A "slide rule" weight and balance calculation told me that would be 10,500 feet MSL. Traveling East and flying VFR my choices were 9,500 feet and 11,500 feet (Odd altitudes + 500 ft). Passing through 2000 feet MSL I checked in with Fort Wayne and climbed through 4,800 feet MSL shortly there after, clear of their class C air space. The flight itself was somewhat uneventful. Communications were kept to a minimum. I paralleled my plotted preflight course at 10 nautical miles to the North as I passed Southwest of Columbus International Airport and marked on top Rickenbacker International at 10,400 feet MSL in an ascent. Midway through the flight I remembered to turn on the barograph, so I ended up with only a partial trace. By this time in the flight I had climbed above, overtaken and was well out in front of the cloud deck that had rolled in some two hours ago during inflation.
The devastation left by the recent flooding of the Ohio River Valley was quite evident throughout the flight. Flying into the sun, vast stretches of land lay before me as reflective ponds.
Rather early in the flight it became evident to me that I would not be able to get to my goal in Virginia due to lighter winds aloft than predicted and balloon performance. I elected to "lay up short" and planned a landing in the vicinity of the University of Ohio in Athens. At three and a half hours into the flight I began my 900 fpm descent as my last ten gallon tank came off the peg. The deceleration was incredibly smooth and I began a shallow turn back to the Northwest. I negotiated a few mild thermals and alighted in a wealthy neighborhood amidst several friendly folks. In no time we had Sub Hunter packed up and ready to go.
Then came the inevitable question. Where's your crew? (The reader will notice that up until this point in the story that no mention of crew has been made, well ..no crew was used! I did a solo inflation of the balloon, left my truck where I took off in Indiana and the balloon where I landed in Ohio) Mr. Harvey Frank and his gracious wife Pat offered to let me store the balloon in his garage till I could retrieve it sometime in the next few days.
My plan was to find a ride to attend Balloonknowledge Ô97 in Akron that evening, scrounge a ride from someone heading back in the general direction of Northwestern Ohio or Northeastern Indiana after the seminar was over Sunday evening, get my truck and drive to Athens to get the balloon. Harvey dropped me at the university bus stop where I caught a $42.00 bus ride to Akron via Columbus. A $15.00 cab ride later and I arrived at the Hilton hotel for the seminar.
The seminar was probably the best I'd ever attended and Bob Hofbauer, a balloonist from western Ohio along with his crew chief Greg were nice enough to go out of their way to get me back to my truck. Adding another twist to the retrieve, I managed to get the truck stuck in the mud trying to get out of my launch field, but Bob & Greg saved the day and I was on my way. Thanks guys!
I arrived at Harvey and Pats' place on Sunday evening at 10:30 p.m. picked up the balloon and, after stopping along the road several times to get some sleep, I arrived home at 11:00 a.m. Monday.
Not your typical Long Jump! Several titles came to mind as I was writing this article. They included: Roanoke (Indiana) to Roanoke (Virginia); "Rebel without a crew"; "Not your average Long Jump" & "PDG: The Cullen Farm"...
A "crew-less" Long Jump may not be for everyone, but having done solo inflations many times before, having done the detailed planning and given an ideal weather window, it is how I choose to enjoy this years' Long Jump. The flight's success was the direct result of the hospitality, generosity and help of old ballooning friends and my new found friends in Indiana and Ohio. My sincere thanks to one and all.