Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Another video

Here's a video from of the Worlds:

Friday, December 19, 2008

More videos

Additional videos can now be found on my YouTube page:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Erica's Birthday Serenade

Due to the lack of a quality Internet connection in Austria, I couldn't post this video while I was there.  But now you too can see Erica Hahn getting serenaded by The John Otti Band at the opening ceremony party on the eve of her 30th birthday:

If the high-definition video above is choppy or loads too slowly, a standard-definition version can be found here.  And an even larger HD version is here.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Who Was Following this Website?

Over the course of the last 3 weeks, visitors to this website came from 44 different US states.  The only exceptions were Wyoming, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.

In addition, the site was viewed by people from 65 countries:
United States, United Kingdom, Austria, France, Latvia, Japan, India, Spain, Germany, Italy, Malaysia, Turkey, Canada, Brazil, Sweden, Singapore, China, Argentina, Philippines, Switzerland, Hungary, Australia, Netherlands, Taiwan, Norway, Poland, Hong Kong, Finland, Egypt, Peru, Slovenia, Thailand, Belgium, Portugal, Greece, Russia, Chile, Mexico, Indonesia, Colombia, Ukraine, South Africa, New Zealand, Slovakia, Romania, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Ireland, Syria, Ivory Coast, Nepal, Niger, Serbia, Pakistan, Estonia, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Guam, Denmark, Tunisia, Bulgaria, Montenegro

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


After a 2½ hour delay due to a first officer that was over-extended, I finally arrived in Grand Rapids at 1:00am this morning. A small airport is a pretty lonely place at that hour.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My First Meal in the US

From On The Border in Atlanta airport: Chicken enchiladas with green sauce, refried beans, rice, tortilla chips, and salsa:

Back in the USA

After a 10 hour flight, I'm now in Atlanta. Even though the plane was only about half full, I still say that the 767 is not a comfortable long-flight plane, at least not in coach. The seat next to me was empty so I could stretch my legs that direction. However, the seat backs in front of you are so close that watching a movie on a laptop is impossible even if the person in front of you doesn't recline. The plane doesn't have seat-back entertainment systems, so they showed 3 movies on the "big screens"; I watched all of one (Kung Fu Panda), part of another (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), and none of a third (Then She Found Me). I dozed off a few times, maybe an hour total for the flight. Interesting note: There were two US Air Marshalls on board (as evidenced by the 2 plain-clothed guys going through immigration in the "Crew" line).

Passport control and customs was pretty easy - nothing like Europe, but not bad for the US. It's still amazing how rude the security (TSA) people are to foreign nationals. If someone doesn't speak English, it doesn't seem like getting closer and yelling louder is going to make things better.

Unfortunately my connecting flight to Grand Rapids is already delayed. Instead of departing at 8:45pm, it's now scheduled for 9:38pm, which is supposed to get me home at 11:30pm. Hopefully it doesn't get any worse - or get canceled all together. Right now it's 6:40pm here but it feels like 12:40am to me. I'm already wiped out.

Final Moments in Austria

Everyone woke up this morning pretty eager to get on with the day's activities. We walked across the street to the terminal and got Erica, Paul, Bonnie, Bruce, and Shawn checked into their Northwest flight, which had an on-time departure at 9:45am. I'm flying alone on Delta and have about 2 more hours before my Atlanta flight leaves. It's another 767, which is not the best trans-oceanic aircraft. However right now the online seat map is only about 40% full with no one assigned next to me, so maybe it won't be so bad. The flight is 11 hours total.

Once in Atlanta I've got about 4 hours before my flight to Grand Rapids leaves. I'll have to clear immigration and customs during that layover, which I hear can be a multi-hour ordeal there. If everything is on time my plane should land in Michigan at 10:55pm (a 2 hour flight) and I should be home before midnight (which will feel like 6:00am to me).

Vienna airport is pretty nice, and is a great place to people-watch. Like everywhere else there's a lot of smoking here, but I think I've gotten more used to it. Maybe I'll need to chew Nicorette for a few days when I get back to wean myself off the secondhand smoke. The passport procedures for departure are non-existent - you hand it to them and they stamp it. No questions, 20 seconds max. Here they screen your carry-on luggage (a laptop case and backpack in my case) at your individual gate instead of all together.

There's very little seating near the gates here, so right now I'm in a big room (smoke-filled, of course) tucked back into a corner. My plane starts boarding in 15 minutes, so I guess it's time to go stand over there. I land in Atlanta at 4:55pm (Michigan time), so if I have time there might be one additional update today from there. Then I'll have a wrap-up post or two tomorrow before putting this blog to bed.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Last Loose Ends

This morning we got up early and drove to Vienna. Our first stop was air cargo, where we dropped off the balloons for shipment home. Our basket weighed in at about 750 pounds and contained three 15-gallon tanks (Paul borrowed another from someone here), a ZL-60 envelope, a Sirocco double burners, radios, a set of BFA loggers, trophies, coats, shoes, and other miscellaneous items.

Once we turned the van in and checked into our hotel (at the airport), we caught the train into Vienna city center for some sightseeing:

Tomorrow morning Paul, Erica, Shawn, Bonnie, and Bruce fly out at about 10:00am. I leave at noon Austria time (6:00am in Michigan), landing in Grand Rapids at 11:00pm.

One last balloon photo: Aspiring competitors, here's what it's like to compete at the Worlds:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Worlds, Final Day

The final results are in. You can see all the details from the event's website by clicking here. In short, Paul finished in 4th place out of 100 competitors, 11 points (out of 14,000 possible) from third and 231 points from first.

This morning was the awards ceremony.

The top 3 were from (in order) France, Russia, and France.

Joe Zvada finished 6th in his first World Championships:

And of course Paul got a nice trophy for 4th:

For all you aspiring competitors out there, here's a history lesson: a selection of former (and current) World Champions.

Today we'll finish with packing up the equipment. Tomorrow will be an early morning as we drive the 2 hours to Vienna to drop off a 900-pound basket to air cargo and turn in the van. We'll then spend the day seeing Vienna before getting on flights back home Tuesday morning.

We love you Jan:

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

When 15 points separate you from the podium, what do you do? Stand outside the competition center beside the guy that you're chasing (in the blue vest with the logo) waiting for updates:

Worlds, Day 6

Imagine that you are getting ready to fly the last flight of the World Championships and you're within a stone's throw (~250 points) of first place. Wouldn't it be nice to have three former World Champions (and friends) offer to fly pibal for you?

That's what happened this morning in Austria. With a two-task flight called and Paul within 250 points of first place, Al Nels (1987 & 1991 champion), Joe Heartsill (1995 champion), and John Petrehn (2006 champion) all offered to assist. With winds forecasted to be brisker than we've seen all week, teams were sent out for a fly-in and hesitation waltz. At the briefing we were reminded not only of the recall procedures, but that the decision to fly is completely and exclusively that of the pilot. After selecting a launch location, we proceeded to lay out and begin inflation. Joe Heartsill and John Petrehn inflated within 100' and took off (along with about 20 others). Although their ascents were completely under control, others around us proceeded with much less caution.

However, with our balloon stood up and ready, we suddenly heard shouting in various foreign languages. We couldn't understand the words, but the universal sign of crossed-forearms was unmistakable. Immediately we checked the text messages on our cell phone and confirmed the bad news. The flight (and both tasks) had been canceled. Everyone got down okay, but there would be no scoring.

Currently there are a number of outstanding issues with the scores, including one task that's being recalculated completely. Paul has moved from 5th to 4th then back to 5th and now back to 4th in the last 12 hours without a flight being flown. The event has done an outstanding job of keeping the website current, so check there for the latest updates. Joe Zvada, in his rookie year, is locked solidly into the top-10, currently being shown in 6th place.

Funny story of the day: This morning Mike Howard, our friend and fellow competitor from Great Britain who was also battling for the lead, was standing in a field next to us looking at pibals. Suddenly he grabbed the BFA radio from Nick Donner's pocket and, in his "unmistakable" voice, said "Andy Baird, what are the winds at the field doing?" Andy's response: "Sorry, that last transmission broke up."

Right now we're sitting in the event debriefing meeting. It's an open forum where those involved with the event can comment on the competition to those involved in organizing it. Lots of compliments, suggestions, and criticisms are being voiced. However, I'm not going to report on the specifics here.

The awards ceremony will be held tomorrow afternoon, I'll almost certainly have some photos to post from that.

Although a few have left for home already, tonight the approximately 50 members of Team USA are planning on having dinner together at a local restaurant. We've already "disassembled" our retreive vehicles, and tomorrow we'll being readying the balloon equipment for shipping. It will be dropped at air cargo in Vienna on Monday. We plan to spend Monday afternoon and evening seeing the city, then fly ourselves out on Tuesday morning.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Final results?

The standings for all tasks (1-14) are posted here.

However, there will be some minor changes. Paul is only 15 points from a podium finish. It's fully possible that even minor modifications to the scores of those below him could change things enough to get those...

Live from the Afternoon Briefing

Two tasks indicated on the task sheet: a fly-in with 2 goals and a hesitation waltz with 4 goals. Launch site is competitor's choice, and both are free marker drops. 1 km minimum distance on the fly-in.

However, after the weather briefing David Levin indicated that the winds were too high, so the flight was canceled. With "increasing wind speeds during a cloudy night with gusty winds in the morning and during the whole day" it appears that the competition might be over. Based on this morning's task results posted on the event's website we may have gained some spots. The overall standings haven't been updated yet, but given that we now have some free time this evening perhaps we'll run those numbers ourselves.

International Superstar

I'm pretty sure that I heard him say "If you ain't first, you're last."

Worlds, Day 6

First, my apologies for only posting once yesterday. After a long 3-task evening flight (which didn't go particularly well) we had to wait well over an hour for propane. By then everyone was ready for food and some sleep. Sorry, no action photos.

Another chilly 4-task flight this morning: PDG (3 possible goals), HWZ (2 possible goals), MXDD (with limited scoring) and an elbow. Tasks sheets, results, and other "official" details are on the event's website.

Paul said he did pretty well on the first 2 tasks (the photos below say Joe Zvada did as well).

(Photos courtesy of Larry Coan)

Shifting winds made getting to the MXDD difficult, but a very low level (under 200' AGL) box developed that allowed about 20 pilots to make low, slow, precise approaches.

Al Nels was the only member of Team USA to score on that task.

The final task, an elbow, had most balloons flying very low and slow over Kaindorf.

Although Paul wasn't able to make the field for the MXDD, he did achieve measured results on the first 2 tasks and was able to create a 180 degree (or very close to it) angle for the elbow. Hopefully that will move him up a little from his pre-flight position of 21st place.

While I don't have any ballooning photos to post from last night, I did get some shots of the highly-customized Team Zvada Racing recovery vehicle (despite Joe's brother Luke standing/sitting guard).

And here's some photos of our team managers (Andy Baird, John Gibbons, and Derrick Jones):

(Photos courtesy of Derrick Jones)

The weather is very nice right now, but the forecast has wind and rain moving in tomorrow morning. We'll be back out tonight for a 4:00pm briefing, and hopefully things will hold off long enough for another 4-5 part flight tomorrow morning.