Flight of experimental weather balloon a near picture-perfect success


By Lisa Fernandez 


Publication: San Jose Mercury News (California)

Date: Sunday, September 13 2009


In Ron Meadows’ mind, his helium weather balloon journey, which began Saturday morning from his San Jose driveway and ended when the balloon landed about 125 miles away in Merced, was a near picture-perfect success.

Launched south of Los Banos, his balloon soared nearly 20 miles high and had only one slight hitch. Cameras attached to the balloon snapped photographs of the earth as planned. And the ham radio tracking system that the 53-year-old pool-service owner built himself enabled him to track where the soaring balloon was all day long.

“It went great,” he said.

Oh yeah, except for one locked gate.

After the balloon peaked in early afternoon, it burst and fell onto a property along White Rock Road near Merced. The good news is that Meadows had previously worried where “his baby” would land and whether he would ever get a year’s work back. But while Meadows knows exactly where the balloon is — he even has a Google map photo to prove it — the property where it landed is surrounded by a locked gate. “We left a note,” Meadows said.

By early Saturday evening, though, Meadows said a team member had contacted the property owner, who said he’d search his large swath of land with an off-road vehicle to try to recover — and return — the balloon to Meadows.

Meadows’ launch was not done in the name of science. And it wasn’t the first time a weather balloon was sent into the sky.Rather, the story captured attention simply because Meadows, a pool guy and amateur radio operator, spent a year of his life building the contraption, simply to see if his handiwork could chase a gigantic helium balloon floating in the sky.

According to Meadows, he did what he set out to do.

“It was a combination of so many things,” he said. “Technology, photography, flight, science, recovery. Really, it was just a lot of fun.”

Mercury News staff writer Julia Prodis Sulek contributed to this report.Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-920-5002.