to Lawchair Larry?
It's a tip of the hat this morning to Las Vegas high school student Manuja Gunaratne, who for just $50 managed to launch a helium balloon mission and return some impressive snaps of Nevada. The basic "T.B.A.C" (Trash Bag AirCraft) payload set-up was familiar enough: second-hand Canon digital camera, running a CHDK …
The secondary school I went to encouraged us all to do extra activities in the free periods between A-level lessons. One such activity was doing stuff just like this - we blagged a load of plastic clothes wrap from a dry cleaners, built a small camera platform to carry a compact 35mm and electromechanical shutter release (geared-down electric motor turning a cam which pushed down on the shutter every 10s or so, IIRC), filled the wrap with helium and flew it tethered to a reel of fishing line over the school grounds. We also built and flew model rockets, and learned how to make simple explosives...
...so I guess turning the nanny state/security theatre/compensation culture clock back 20 years might be required before the kids of today get the chance to do stuff like this again :-(
Of course, in the US there are similar, if probably slightly less restrictive FAA restrictions. If you're a stickler for regulations, you can view the controlled airspace the balloon drifted through at http://runwayfinder.com/?loc=VGT (The launch site was near the Bank of America waypoint marked about 6 nautical miles northwest of McCarran Airport, the main Las Vegas airport.) One of the Reg article's photos is of "3 Fingers Lake" which is also a marked waypoint on the chart. The areas to the north are major jet fighter training ranges, which abut the nuclear test site and the famous Area 51. There's a SPOT-generated map of the balloon's path on the project's site so you can count the number of airspaces violated :-) There is a lot of wide-open space in Nevada, but this isn't it :-( On the positive side, the airspace is busy enough there that pilots usually have their eyes open for stealth aircraft of all sorts.
Oh yeah, flying weird looking shit in Nevada without radio comms can get you in trouble. Surprised he didn't get a surprise helicopter escort, following a surprise fighter escort that kept getting past him before they could see what the hell he was. Awesome idea, hope he doesn't have the feds crawling up his ass for encroaching on restricted airspace! This is the kind of creativity seen through to completion that we need to see more of!
So Nevada looks like a crappy desert. Big deal. I hate to be a party pooper, but I've found 30 helium balloons on an otherwise pristine sandbank off the North Norfolk coast since March this year. And a completely indestructible sealed plastic bottle with a message in it. On the plus side, though, at least I'll have something to put the crap in when binbags start falling out of the sky.
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