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The Ultimate Fox Hunt by KI4NDN

posted Aug 23, 2017, 7:03 PM by Stones River   [ updated Aug 23, 2017, 7:47 PM ]
Food For Thought
Safety Fox

On April 30, 2015 there was a balloon launch by fellow Ham KI4NHK. With very little info, I began to see if I could track or even locate the balloon launch on aprs. The info is @

The following year on April 23, 2016 KI4NHK launched another balloon. This time there was aprs beacon malfunction and the payload was lost. Launch April 26 2016
Having done a pre-launch prediction, there was a general idea of where the payload would land. The previous year when I had run a pre-flight prediction, it missed 13 miles. This time around it missed approximately 8 miles. I had a little more input information this go round. After about four days of searching it was finally discovered, KI4NHK, K4MCD and myself and others participated in the hunt. KI4NHK ultimately found the payload. It was up 40-50' in a tree. We tried with dusk fast approaching to retrieve the load. No luck. KI4NHK arranged for the payload to be retrieved by a climber with gear and experience.

Several balloons were launched this year leading up to the Eclipse event on 08/21/2017.  As I was tracking via aprs and hf/vhf/uhf it was at times confusing as I watched three or more balloons at once. The aprs signals were intermittent on one or more of the balloons. One of the last beacons on aprs was @

2017-08-19 12:56:09
7 MPH 86° alt 4689 ft

You would think this would be easy to locate, right? Wrong. Even with aprs tracking, the terrain, heat, access, property owners, dogs, snakes, horses, cows, spiders, sweat, the list goes on. ad-infinitum. It's a great challenge to locate and retrieve a balloon and it's payload, however there are lots of lesson you learn every time out. So here goes.

1. Safety Safety Safety
2. Is it worth it?
3. Liability
4. Trespass Laws
5. Wrong end of the GUN
6. Poisonous Critters
7. Crevasses/holes
8. Daylight
9. Where am I, exactly?
10. How long will it take for help to arrive if something happens?
11. I have a radio and a net control station, but what if battery fails, no signal, rainstorm pops up, I trip on log and sprain my ankle and cannot get to my radio. There is no phone signal here. I'm down in extreme pain and at least 3/4 miles deep into the woods. I'm bleeding pretty badly.
Okay you get the idea. Right

Now another scenario. There are 4 of you circling around in the wide open field, the Johnson grass is head high and above. No luck looks like it may be over there and we all head off to the woods where there is a drop off by the river. It's extremely hot. We are in contact with Net Control, they know the general vicinity of our hunt. All hunters are off on their own hurriedly trying to be the finder of the GREAT Prize. Payload discovered.
Payload up in a tree about 30', Somebody very quickly grabs tree and begins to climb. Just about the time she reached out to grab payload she was stung in the neck by a couple yellow jackets. As she reacted the half rotten limb she was standing on gave way. Down she went being mangled by each limb on the way down. Oh but she managed to hang on to the payload.

So Guys and Gals the message here is Use Your Hat Rack. Is it worth it? There's lots of ways to do things, and there are consequences to the steps that we take. Who is responsible for YOU? No not Net Control. You are responsible for YOU.

Think Think Think

So you got the balloon, how much did it cost you? So Net Control is sitting back in the comfort of a nice air conditioned shack looking at an aprs screen sipping a cool drink and you are in the woods dealing with everything from a loaded shotgun with an angry land owner to rattlesnakes in search of water, chiggers, ticks, spiders, caves, sinkholes, other hams racing to find the PRIZE.
The responsibility falls on the individual ham or hunter.
Be careful and move slowly. Now that's what could happen. But then again everything may work out perfectly and the payload makes it back home to its launcher and everyone lives Happily Thereafter.

Here is some compiled screenshots of aprs tracking/multitasking.  PDF File APRS Screenshots by:ki4ndn