FIRST FLIGHT OF THE YEAR: TO SPAIN!
Starting 2019 with a bang! For some weeks already, we had the idea of a long gas balloon flight in the first week of January – and as the slot approached, the weather models showed a possible crossing of the Pyrenees, starting from the Gladbeck gas balloon site.
So, on January 1st, we packed our stuff, drove to Gladbeck on January 2nd and took off there in the evening. The busy airspaces of Düsseldorf and Cologne pretty much defined our launch time at half past eleven. The winds took us southwards to France, where the cold night eventually found it’s end with a beautiful sunrise near Nancy. The rising sun spread a wonderful warm light, and we could even see the majestic scenery of the Swiss Alps in the distance.
The day above France was not really spectacular – agreeable temperatures, perfect direction, wonderful views. Flying closer towards Toulouse, we decided that we were ready for the Pyrenees and the second night. As the sun set, we had done all preparations for the second night: Boiled some hot tea water that would keep us warm through the long cold night, oxygen system was up and running, our chase crew was informed, clearance for higher flight levels had been granted… the only thing to do was to lose some more ballast. Which was easier said than done, as the wet sand had started to freeze, and although we had mixed part of it with salt, it was still a strenuous job to get it out of the bags and crush it to dust.
In the end, we had to rise to over 4500m to find the right winds that would lead us to Spain – some tough hours, filled with a lot of anxious looks on the GPS and intense communication with our command center. After we had found the right winds to Spain, we could finally have some sleep – or at least one of us could, while the other one enjoyed the pitch dark night over the Pyrenees. I have never seen so many stars (and so many shooting stars!) in my whole life… absolutely beautiful.
However, the cold night and the lack of sleep had exhausted us both, and although we would have loved to fly on over the wonderful landscape the sun began to lighten beneath us, we decided to land close to the motorway Valencia – Zaragoza. Which proved an excellent idea, as our brave chase crew were with us right away! :-)
Thanks again for this fantastic adventure to the Ballonsportgruppe Stuttgart e.V. with Tomas, Peter and Helmut, to Axel, Wilhelm and Max for the hospitality at Gladbeck, and to our Spanish friend Anulfo for help with local ATC and of course the second Himalayan Suit ;-)