[balloon-makers] Flying in New Hampshire.... oops, I mean Maine.

Mike & Tammie skyfun at ncia.net
Mon Jan 21 12:21:23 CST 2002


A word of warning...   this is the long winded version. Unfortunately there
is no short winded version.  You can, however, just go to the bottom and
click on Kurts photo link for the flight.

Mike Lavoie
Milan, NH


The preparation for the weekend flight started on Thursday with several
checks of the weather forecast. It looked like the high would be over us on
Saturday, with great flying conditions accompanying it. Friday evening was
spent loading the fan, envelope, basket, and extra tank. After making sure
all three tanks were plugged in and on the timer it was now time to check on
the other essentials such as wool socks, long johns, turtle fur, "very
stylish" sheepskin hat, and crew. I made a quick call to Kurt and he
confirmed by saying, "Call me when you get up and I'll be ready when you get
here".

Trying to decide where to go fly was another task for Friday. I called
Walter Crites, an Auburn, Maine, balloonist, to see if he wanted to play
Saturday morning but he declined saying he would have "a paintbrush glued to
his hand the whole weekend". The other choice was the Coaticook, Quebec,
area where there is an abundance of farm fields which makes flying there
seem almost too easy. The decision will be made in the morning.
Saturday morning at 04:45 was warmer than forecast, it was a balmy 1 degree
F. I checked the Weather Channel to see what the surrounding areas had for
conditions and since it was snowing in Montreal, I decided on going to
Maine. After a quick call to Flight Service confirmed the weather, Tammie
and I left to pick up Kurt and begin the hour and a half drive to
Lewiston/Auburn.

We stopped across from the Oxford Speedway and sent up a pibal. The
direction looked like it might work but lacked the speed to get us to a
decent landing area. We continued on past Mechanic Falls and found a
possible launch site in the form of "Stone and Irish, Used cars". Their
house was located in the back of the car lot so I rang the bell to get
permission. No answer; assumption, not home. Since people in Maine are the
friendly, neighborly sort, and since it was a business parking lot, I
decided to launch from the lot.
We unloaded "Fugly", our 56K lightweight homebuilt, and proceeded to lay it
out and prepare to inflate. Having only three of us made inflation a little
tricky on the snow-covered lot. The fan did not want to stay in place by
itself, and I did not want to stand in prop blast at those temperatures
holding the center of the mouth open. Since it was calm, Kurt and I held the
mouth while Tammie held the fan. Once Fugly was half full Kurt was able to
return to the crown line as the mouth will stay by itself. When Fugly was
upright and the fan was off it now became obvious that someone had been home
and Mrs. Stone was standing in the front yard taking pictures. We apologized
for waking her up and she answered that she had been awake, but just didn't
feel like answering the door. She thought it was probably someone she knew
and they should know better than ring the bell at 7:30 in the morning. Kurt
and I flew off slowly and left Tammie chatting with Mrs. Stone.

As we ascended above the tree line we were greeted with astounding views of
the White Mountains to the west and that rather large saltwater pond to the
east. The sun, still low in the sky, was reflecting off the ocean forty
miles in front of us. The mountains behind us, with their tops covered with
a fresh coat of snow appeared close enough to reach out and touch. We
climbed looking for steerage, a little to the northeast down low and almost
due east at 2000 feet. We climbed to 5000 feet and came to a near
standstill. After a few Kodak moments at altitude we dropped back down to
1500 feet and enjoyed the scenery. All lakes and ponds, with the exception
of Lake Auburn to our left and Sebago Lake well behind to our right, seemed
to be frozen with enough footprints and snowmobile tracks to assure safe
ice. About 45 minutes into the flight I began to look for a place to swap
passengers. The school that was ahead looked promising, I stayed high on
approach hoping to drop down at the last minute and catch the sharp left
hook indicated by the smoke on the ground. The left was right on the surface
and I didn't descend quick enough to catch it. I climbed back to legal
altitude and then tried another approach into Great Falls Plaza, used in
past years as a launch site during their balloon festival. The grass lot
that was there has now been paved and too many light poles were growing out
of the asphalt garden, I decide to fly on. As we are crossing the river,
Tammie radios to us that she has meet Walter at the plaza and both are now
chasing. Finally I am able to land in the back lot of Pineland Lumber. Both
Walter and Tammie are there within a minute to greet us. Tammie and Kurt
change places, we leave the external tank on the ground with him and we are
once again airborne waving back to the lady in the pink robe standing on her
porch.

We climbed up to 1000 feet where the air is still warmer than it is on the
ground. After flying past Bates College we are able to drop down over the
woods for some contour flying. In the middle of the woods, a half-mile from
the nearest road, I spot a large curved stone hearth and fireplace with
three curved stone benches all neatly arranged in a circle. I can picture
witches chanting around the fire on nights of the full moon, casting their
spells, sacrificing goats or something worse! We see a dog running by on one
of the trails that lead to this evil place and check to see if his is
carrying a leftover bone. He is not. Later we find out it is just a bird
sanctuary and they use the benches and fireplace for lectures.
Knowing Walter is already in trouble for dropping his paintbrush, we decide
to land at the next suitable spot, which is a pond about a mile ahead. We
drop down over the ridge onto the pond to find there is still a sharp left
on the surface, which carries down the pond. At just a few feet above the
snow we slowly drift toward the end of the pond, chatting with the ice
fishermen as we go by. Final landing, two hours after first takeoff, was on
the hard packed snowmobile trail about 100 yards from the road. Retrieve was
made easy by use of a toboggan built for just this purpose. We dropped
Walter off at his vehicle left at the lumberyard where he could get the
gallon of stain he used as an excuse to sneak out.
The ride home after breakfast brought us by our launch site. Since we landed
on a public lake and still had the bottle of landowner champagne with us, we
decided it would be a nice gesture to leave it with the Stone's. Mrs. Stone
invited us in for a few minutes to discuss flying balloons and the Super Cub
on floats she and her husband, Al, used to own. Knowing we weren't going to
be allowed to leave until after we went out to the garage to swap flying
stories with Al, we ventured out to the sales office and found him only too
happy to drop the paperwork and hangar fly with us. Being in his eighties
and having had heart surgery years back, hangar flying is all the flying the
FAA will let Al do these days. It made our day seeing the smile on his face
and the twinkle in his eyes. Paul, in the body shop, told of his balloon
ride a few years ago and how much he enjoyed it. He gave us his number and
said he would be happy to crew for us when we were in the area. Before we
left, the Stones offered the use of their land "any time we wanted" and had
"three nice fields for us to use in the summer".

If anyone is interested, Kurt has posted some photos from the flight at:
http://www.on-the-map.com/20020119/



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