Members of the 399th Composite Squadron – (clockwise from front left) Cadet Airman Lizeth Baltazar, 1st Lt. Brian Waldron, Cadet Staff Sgt. Robert Buckley, Cadet Master Sgt. Liam Waldron (with camera), Cadet Airman 1st Class Ainsley Keller and Cadet Airman Justin Almeida – prepare the weather balloon package for flight.
Photo by 2nd Lt. Joe Medina
The weather balloon package included a SPOT Tracker, Connecticut Wing patches and a video camera.
Photo by Cadet Master Sgt. Liam Waldron
The weather balloon ascends skyward shortly after release.
Photo by Cadet Master Sgt. Liam Waldron
The 399th Composite Squadron patch as seen from the video camera on board the weather balloon at a maximum of 113,616 feet.
The projected and actual balloon track. The projected path is the shorter yellow/green line; the actual path the balloon took is the longer, colored line.
Cadet 1st Lt. Joseph Waldron
399th Composite Squadron
The high-altitude balloon that members of the 399th Composite Squadron launched Oct. 8 to collect weather data attained a height of 113,616 feet – thought to be a Civil Air Patrol record and measuring just over 21½ miles, nearly 25 percent higher than the balloon the unit sent aloft 91,500 feet in September 2014.
The balloon launched from New Fairfield High School just after 8 a.m., with six senior members and 15 cadets filling the launch team’s various roles. The squadron had been working on the weather balloon project about three months, with participating members divided into various work groups
As the launch date approach, the team ran projections and identified a launch site based on projected winds and potential track.
The morning of the launch, 2nd Lt. Mike Nolan, project leader and the 399th’s squadron activity officer, conducted a safety briefing on possible hazards and how to mitigate them. The participants then headed to the launch site, where they began performing the duties for which they trained.
Some cadets loaded the payload package, which included 10 Connecticut Wing patches, while others set up the drone to take video. The balloon was filled to capacity with helium and the ascent rate tested using a 1-gallon water jug with the exact amount of weight needed to provide the “neck lift” necessary to reach the desired ascent rate.
When the balloon was finally ready its tether lines were released, and it quickly climbed over New Fairfield. As the pressure dropped and the gas expanded, the balloon grew in size and headed northeasterly.
Participants left the launch site just after 8:30 a.m. to await the GPS signal from the SPOT Tracker inside the package. Although a signal was eventually obtained, for nearly three hours the balloon’s location was unknown because the tracker was too high to receive a signal from the satellites.
Once the signal was regained, the recovery team set off in the direction displayed on the GPS. The team discovered it on the property of the Pine Meadows Country Club in Lexington, Massachusetts.
After obtaining permission from the town and the country club, the team conducted a line search through the woods, following the indicated latitude and longitude while scanning the ground and trees for the package.
It was discovered in a tree about 75 feet above ground and reclaimed by the team in the early evening with assistance from Marquis Tree Service.
The balloon continued northeast at a much faster rate than expected. At one point it traveled about 125 mph, thanks to Hurricane Matthew’s impact on wind speed.
The launch team’s calculations had projected a landing in the Enfield, Connecticut, area, but the strong winds pushed it closer to Boston, about 80 miles to the northeast.
“I am really proud of these cadets for their interest, enthusiasm and determination to set a new record in CAP history,” Nolan said. “These cadets are our future leaders, scientists and explorers.”
The squadron has posted a Facebook video on the project.