Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Closing the Book

After 20 straight hours of traveling we have now returned home.  Save the "non-obvious" method for transferring at Brussels Airport the trip was uneventful.  We even landed in Chicago 30 minutes early and were able to get through immigration, baggage claim, customs, and the parking lot shuttle in under 45 minutes.  After a 3 hour drive from O'Hare our first meal in the US was deep-dish pizza from Village Inn in Holland, MI.  If we can stay awake until 9:30pm (which feels like 3:30am to us) we'll have been up for 24 straight hours.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Almost Leaving

Our last day in Hungary, spent it shopping in Budapest.

Tomorrow we'll be up at 3:45am for a 7:00am flight: Budapest to Brussels, then Brussels to Chicago. We arrive in Chicago at 1:05pm CDT. After clearing customs and immigration I hope to be back home at around 6:00pm or 7:00pm Tuesday evening.

A Few Hundred Pounds Lighter

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Leaving Town

After the Awards Ceremony we packed everything up and drove from Debrecen to Budapest. We checked into the Airport Hotel Budapest, then piled about 20 Americans into 4 vehicles and drove back to Iguana for another round of Mexican food. We then walked around Budapest a bit, which allowed us to see St. Stephen's Basilica at night. Johnny, Mark, Andrew, and several others will fly out tomorrow morning. Of course Johnny has one more carry-on bag, which I wouldn't be surprised if he bought a seat for on the flight home.  Erica, Paul, Bonnie, Bruce and I will finish packing the balloon, drop it off at air freight, then turn in the vehicles at the Ford office. We'll have about half a day in Budapest to be tourists, then return to the Airport Hotel tomorrow night before our 7:00am departure on Tuesday.

The Airport Hotel is a little more "westernized" than where we stayed in Debrecen. The beds are a bit softer and we get a few more TV channels in English. It also has a really neat feature that I've only seen once before, in Japan. When you walk in the room you need to insert you card key to "activate" the lights, TV, furnace/AC etc. If you remove your key, everything shuts off. It's a pretty smart thing because you can't leave anything on when you exit the room, thereby saving energy (and $$$).

From the Awards Ceremony



John Petrehn (USA) has won the 19th FAI World Hot Air Balloon Championship. It's his second such crown in 3 years, having won in 2006 as well. Nick Donner (USA) finished second after leading the event most of the week. Stefan Zeberli of Switzerland finished third. Among other Americans, Joe Heartsill was 12th and Paul Petrehn was 19th.

The awards start at noon local time. I'll be taking lots of photos, but because we're driving to Budapest afterward I won't be able to post them right away. If our hotel for the next two nights has Internet access I'll get them uploaded this evening. Once in Budapest we need to drop the balloon off at air cargo, then return the vehicles to Ford.

Larry left Debrecen yesterday afternoon for an early flight this morning. He's actually going straight to Las Vegas for a work-related event. Tomorrow Andrew flies out, then Erica, Paul, Bonnie, Bruce and I follow on Tuesday morning.

Saturday, October 9, 2010


Still no scores. After wearing out the Refresh button on the computer in the hotel lobby we finally had to go get some dinner at a neighborhood pizza place.

Day 6, AM Flight

Not your average weekend
task sheet..
 The five markers on the table at 20 minutes before briefing created quite a chatter amongst the competitors.  When a sixth was added 10 minutes later, then came the gasps.  When the gate opened teams saw the following six tasks: Land Run (pilot-declared center of a 3km circle), Judge Declared, Hesitation Waltz, Hesitation Waltz, Minimum Distance Double Drop, Hesitation Waltz. The Land Run declaration had to be made on a common north-south grid line, so it would have to be flown before any of the marker tasks, basically right after take off.  A common launch site was used, and all drops were by gravity except the Minimum Distance.  Although it didn't affect the American teams, the Event Director also require pilots to fly solo this flight.  Many international competitors fly larger balloons (77,000 cu. ft. or more) with a navigator on board.  Thus the test would truly be on the individual's ability to execute all aspects of the balloon's operation.  Because the awards aren't until tomorrow, unlimited area scoring (by logger) was available on all tasks except the Minimum Distance.

The winds weren't such that an outstanding Land Run result was possible, so pilots worked to obtain some variety of a triangle while not giving up the 5000 points that remained downstream.  Once they exited that circle a string of balloons lined up on the first set of common goals (Task 15).  Marker dropping ensued.  From there the pack held close to the the ground, looking for the left to take them to the next set of common targets (Task 16).  Few (if any) were able to obtain a marker-measured result, but logger scoring meant that holding the line was still worth it.  From there the pack tightened as the headed off to the next task.  "Rubbing is Racing" was the mantra, as they bumped their way west just feet over the corn.  Task 17 will see good results as those able to separate themselves from the congestion had the ability to tune an approach.  The Minimum Distance saw a few scores by the early arrivals, but majority of the pack was blown to the right.  The mass awarding of pool points could negate this Task 18.  Task 19 saw plenty of marker scoring, although not by all.  In between and at each task there were plenty of ground contacts, so penalty points could play into the outcome.

It's impossible to say how things will shake out.  Today will certainly see lots of standing around at the Competition Center waiting for scores to be posted.  An event debriefing at 1:30pm will add some activity to the day, but with no flights remaining teams have most of the day to "review" the events of the morning.


This morning got the event right-side-up: 10 morning tasks, 9 evening.  And it turns out that the re-hashing has already begun:
Hi Mrs. Petrehn!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Day 5, PM Flight

A three-task evening from a common launch site was on the menu for tonight. Another wedding-cake variety 3-D Shape Task followed by two Hesitation Waltz tasks. Gravity drops were called for each (except the logger-scored 3D task) and as usual the tasks could be flown in any order. So the question was where to put the 3D goal - before the Hesitation Waltz's or after. Team USA opted to put them after, which made for uninterrupted approaches to the marker tasks. Paul, Johnny and Nick were all able to make it into the top layer of the cake. On nights like this it's impossible to tell how one scored relative to the field, so I'll avoid making any predictions.

Tomorrow morning is the final flight of the event.  Because the awards aren't until Sunday, we should be able to run a full slate of tasks (4-5?) and avoid the use of limited-area scoring.

We've now flown 13 tasks, 4 in the morning and 9 in the evening.  Strange.

Updated Results

Updated results are now posted (click here). Team USA retains position 1, 2 and 3, with a 1000 point spread to the 4th spot. Paul is now in 21st, with the top-10 still within striking distance (assuming we get 5-7 more tasks in).

Random Photos III - Grocery Store Edition

After returning to the hotel this morning I took a walk down to the local SPAR grocery store. Here's some of what I bought:
Croissants are good.  Chocolate pudding is good.  Why not fill one with the other?  The answer to a problem that doesn't exist.  Cost = $0.75 USD.  They also have vanilla and strawberry pudding varieties, as well as pudding-filled muffins.  
There are all kinds of fresh-baked items available.  This one is a soft bread with bacon and melted cheese on top.  You'll notice the two bites - I ate part of it while walking back to the hotel.  Cost = $0.80 USD
Focaccia bread with cheese and lots of herbs.  Cost = $0.60 USD
Pear juice is common here.  So is peach juice.  Cost = $1.00 USD
More of my favorite European candy.  Breaks the bank at $2 USD per bag.
Here's a line-up of all the Hungarian coins that I've come across.  On the left is a 200 HUF (Hungarian Forint) piece, worth about $1 USD.  Next to it is a 100 HUF.  Both are two-tone, which makes it easy to quickly tell the "big" coins from the small ones.  They proceed down through the 5 HUF coin, worth about half a US penny.  As in other countries, the use of coins here is more prevalent than in the US.  The smalled denomination of bill is 500 HUF ($2.50 USD), so lots of transactions are made using only coins.

Day 5, AM Flight (aka "Mornings Bad, Evenings Good")

It's windy at the hotel right now, an hour before the 5:30am briefing. We'll have to wait and see what happens...

UPDATE: It's 10 minutes after my initial post above and it's gotten even more breezy. Brad just handed me a forecast saying it was going to be 35 degrees at sunrise, 22kph at 300 AGL.

UPDATE: 15 minutes before briefing and the conditions at the Competition Center are the same. Not necessarily un-flyable, but more wind than we've seen so far. No markers on the tables and no event officials or staff walking around.

UPDATE: Briefing area open, no markers. Just a weather sheet with pibal readings of 15k on the surface. They'll start speaking at 5:45am.

FINAL UPDATE: Flight officially cancelled. The weather officer is reporting that it should be flyable this afternoon. So far 6 of the 10 tasks have been in the evening. No scores from yesterday evening have been posted yet. You can check for them by clicking here.

This website just passed the 10,000 visitor mark. Thank you.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Day 4, PM Flight

Overcast conditions and ceilings of around 1000' prevailed throughout the day.  It wasn't until during the afternoon briefing that the clouds began to clear.  A double Hare & Hound was called consisting of two tasks with one hare balloon carrying two targets. The plan was for the lead balloon to land, drop a target, fly on, then land again to set the final goal.  Upon seeing the improving conditions, the Event Director gave some consideration to changing the tasks to those of a Judge Declared type.  However in the end the original call stuck, with Deputy Director David Levin flying the Hare (red balloon shown below).  Anticipating shifting winds and heavy traffic, Paul inflated quickly and was the first balloon in pursuit.  He scored well on both, throwing his marker into the middle of a not-yet-unfurled target on the second task.  But as evident in the photos below the pack followed, so performance relative to others will have to wait for the measurements to be published.  A couple miles downwind was a small village that contained the nicest landing site in all of Hungary - short grass and firm ground.  Several of the American balloons landed there.
Several photos above courtesy of Larry Coan.

The skies have cleared out tonight and it's pretty cold.  Some moisture has already formed in the air, so hopefully fog isn't a concern in the morning.  With only 3 flights left we're hopeful for many more tasks.

Earlier in the week the owner of the hotel indicated that he'd like to host a special dinner for us.  So after refueling everyone hurried back for an authentic multi-course European feast, the conclusion of which was palatschinke with chocolate sauce.