Artist and Instructor
GIBAS IV Captain's Logs
Saturday, June 3, 2017
The morning of launch was favored with the clear sky and warm air of early summer. Despite these encouraging weather conditions, however, the mission of the Gibas IV began with a lack of optimism. The new GPS system had successfully activated the day before, but would not maintain its connection to satellites. With a special crew arriving later that day, the window for launch was small and pressure to correct the situation was heightened.
Technical support could offer little help. Upon suggestion, the GPS device was transported in the Gibas Aeronautics Recovery Vehicle in order to reestablish the connection with satellites. While transporting the device helped satellites to locate it, the connection was again lost once the device was at rest. Several attempts were made by me and First Officer Berry to establish and maintain the connection to satellites through continued transportation of the device. To be sure the device would reestablish communication after its ascent through the atmosphere, where we knew from experience it would lose connection, First Officer Berry drove to an area of highway with a reputation for lack of satellite service on cell phones as I watched the radar at ground control.
Upon the arrival of Lieutenants Abby Fetter and Phil Fauble, First Officer Berry and Lieutenant Fauble made a final run with the device. It successfully lost and reestablished connection, and the time to initiate launch was drawing near. With incredible uncertainty as to the performance of our much needed satellite connection to the Gibas IV, we packed our supplies and headed toward Radar Hill.
At the hill, our usual driving path was barricaded by a locked chain. We would have to carry our supplies up the long path to the top of the hill, including a large and cumbersome helium tank. The air was warm and the sun was bright, but it was nearing evening and would cool down soon. At the top of the hill we were greeted by Ensign Connaught Cullen and her faithful canine companion, Epi, as well as Ensign Becca Halibert.
With launch parameters established, First Officer Berry, Ensign Halibert and I readied the balloon for inflation while Lieutenants Fauble and Fetter manned documentation procedures. Ensign Cullen and Epi remained on standby and assisted in documentation. Our troubles were not eased during the inflation process. Although the procedure began smoothly, readings of vertical lift on the launch scale were much higher than our target, and we proceeded to release air until readings aligned with our goal lift. Too much air in the balloon would mean too rapid of ascent and a loss of stability. This reduction, however, would prove to be a mistake.
With the reading on the launch scale aligned with our target numbers, the balloon was tied off and the craft and parachute were attached. We preceded the countdown, but upon release, a terrible dream I had experienced the night before the launch of the Gibas I became a reality. The balloon simply hovered, and slowly bounced back to the ground.
After many uses, the spring in our launch scale had become slack and was giving inaccurate readings, despite its earlier recalibration. The crew reassembled on the launch pad and proceeded to fill the balloon with the remainder of the helium in the tank, ignoring the readings on the launch scale and relying on our experience to judge the size and lift of the balloon. With our helium reserve depleted, we tied of the balloon and reattached the craft, unsure if there would be enough to carry the Gibas IV to the edge of the stratosphere. Countdown began, but the craft was tangled in its own ropes. With a christening of “third time’s a charm” from Lieutenant Fetter, our third countdown began, and the Gibas IV was successfully launched from our grasps.
We watched our craft retreat into the skies, capturing images of a setting sun and shrinking from our view. We paused to share a moment of accomplishment until we could no longer catch sight of the tiny white dot against the clear blue sky. We walked together slowly back down the long path from Radar Hill, feeling a mix of pride and concern for the future of our aircraft.