Field Of Flight
Battle Creek, MI USA
July 2-6, 2014
Reported by Joe Zvada
For us, the 4th of July means balloon racing in Battle Creek, MI USA. The long running event always attracts top competitors, but had more of an international feel to it this year with Yudai Fujita (Japan), Dom Bareford (UK), and Jason Adams (Canada) joining some of the top American competitors at the event this year.
Rain and wind kept balloons grounded for the first three flight windows of the event. Flyable weather finally arrived on the morning of Friday, July 4th, and Championship Director Jim Birk called a four part task: HWZ, JDG, FON, HWZ. Winds flowed generally from North to South with more left on the surface, right in the middle altitudes, and a high left around 4000ft.
The first HWZ gave pilots the choice of 4 sets of intersection coordinates with results measured by GPS. Five pilots tied for first on this task with one meter results. The entire top 15 recorded results of 10 meters or less. A clear message that this would be a very competitive weekend.
The JDG was located at he festival grounds on the airport. As is fairly standard on the Battle Creek airport, winds turned a bit shifty as pilots came through. Pilots had to time the shift correctly to get their marker close. Five pilots scored less than 1 meter results and the entire top ten were under 3 meters. Chris Smart nailed it with a 0.01 meter throw.
The FON required pilots to declare a point on a road south of the airport to fly to, results were measured by GPS logger. Most chose an intersection on a bearing just east of due south and struggled to find enough left to get there as the shifting winds continued south of the airport. Scores here were much more spread out on this task, Johnny Petrehn won with a 3 meter result, but a result less than 25 meters was good on this task.
The final task was a HWZ with three target options for pilots to choose from. The furthest west target was the most achievable given the wind conditions, but pilots had to cycle up to 4000ft to catch the high left in order to make an approach. Because of the difficult approach, only 14 pilots got markers in the field. Johnny Petrehn won this task with a 0.01 meter drop.
Evening tasks were not included in the overall, but the field flew a Fly In to the airport on both Friday and Saturday nights. Battle Creek evenings are often very steerable and many pilots were able to get good results on these targets.
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Saturday morning dawned on winds flowing from the Southwest with left on the ground and right as you climb. A fairly significant speed layer between 500-1000ft had balloons traveling 35-40km/h, however a strong inversion layer kept the surface winds calm well into the 9am hour. Birk called a four part FIN, HWZ, HWZ, XDT for the morning that would require pilots to use the high right turn to achieve results.
The FIN was set south of Battle Creek and even though most pilots took off 3-5km away from the target they arrived just over 5 minutes after taking off. The speed spread the scores out and only the top 5 pilots achieved less than 10 meter drops. Shawn Raya won the task with a 0.77m result.
Pilots climbed after the FIN in search of a right turn that would take them to the first HWZ. Unfortunately there wasn't quite enough to make it work unless your name was Johnny Petrehn. Johnny was the only pilot to get a marker in both the FIN and the first HWZ. Rick Kerber and Chris Smart were among a few pilots who chose a launch site that allowed them to ride the surface winds to the HWZ, sacrificing a good score on the FIN. A choice that would have paid off more had the event been scored using proportional scoring instead of the positional system that was used. Kerber won the task with a 7 meter drop, but lost 25pts for throwing the wrong color marker.
Another climb in search of a right wind was required to get to the second HWZ, but there wasn't enough turn there and no baggies made the scoring area on this task. Chris Smart won the task with a 100m logger result.
The final task was an XDT. A task that required pilots to fly the furthest distance from a set point inside a predetermined box. Again an ascent to find the high right turn was needed for this task. Jeff Pestun found himself on the wrong side of the pack on this task and needed to do something different, he ascended higher than the rest of the field in search of more right. He found it around 8000ft. The rest of the field saw this and quickly joined him and together they rode the high wind to the northwest corner of predetermined box. Often in this situation, the one who gambles on a maneuver like this in search of a new wind is bound to yield the best result to those that follow as they will inevitably go to school on the first balloon. Today was the exception. Pestun gambled on the climb and laid the line to the point of the box and first place in the task, well done Jeff.
After two flights and eight tasks scores were very tight throughout the field, but it was Johnny Petrehn who pulled away from the field to claim the victory. Joe Heartsill finished second and Chase Donner finished third.