GIBAS II Captain's Logs
April 9, 2016
I awoke this morning to find the ground coated in a thin layer of snow. There has been one day in April with snow on the ground, and it was launch day. After monitoring the weather incessantly for days ahead of time, it was clear that Mother Nature was not on our side. But she had been against us before, and we had fought against her with resilience. We would not let her deter us today.
Despite grey skies and freezing winds, my brave and loyal crew once again followed me onward to Radar Hill in Athens, Ohio to launch the aircraft Gibas II. While the weather had discouraged many previously interested spectators, the core members of my crew believed in our mission and would not be so easily dissuaded.
The high winds created a unique challenge that day. As we began to inflate the crafts’ balloon, it was instantly torn from First Officer Berry’s gentle grip and pulled in the direction of the wind, while Equipment Security Specialist Sprunger gripped the balloons’ neck with all the force she could gather. As the balloon grew in size, First Officer Berry blocked the balloon with his body and was joined in this task by Equipment Security Assistant Alyssa Gibas. As the balloon reached its maximum size and appropriate lift, all available hands joined in holding the balloon in place and safe from the strong force of the icy winds as it was tied off and the payload was attached.
During the inflation process, the clouds had begun to part and blue skies were beginning to show through the dismal grey clouds, offering us hope and optimism for the impending flight. As the equipment of the Gibas II was activated, ‘Coach C’ Chmielewski christened the craft with the pop of a champagne bottle, and the countdown began. Once released, we watched with awe and anticipation as the craft was quickly whisked from our grasps, spinning wildly and shrinking out of sight, reflecting small glimmers of sunlight off of the latex orb.
Back at ground control, we celebrated a successful launch and began monitoring the radar to view the location of the Gibas II. Communications were quickly lost with the craft still over Athens, but we had been expecting this cutoff, and knew this meant that it had ascended rapidly. With the expectation of lost communication, the next several hours would be spent anxiously awaiting reconnection.
Connections were reestablished near 5:00 pm. The craft was somewhere over Marlinton, West Virginia- but still moving. From the data sent back from the GPS, we could see the rate of speed increase as it had began to fall, reaching a maximum speed of 160 mph, and beginning to slow again once the parachute had caught over the mountains of West Virginia. But just as quickly as the communications had been reestablished, they were once again lost. A message on the screen that had not previously appeared informed us that the device was not transmitting, that it could be turned off or in an area with low signal level. While my crew maintained their excitement and optimism, after several hours without reconnection, I felt that something tragic had happened to the Gibas II. With fear in my heart, I spent the remainder of the evening brooding in the anxiety of the unknown.