BALLS 23 - September 19-21, 2014 (Black Rock Desert, NV)

BALLS 23 was to be my 1 trip to Black Rock for 2014. It was a great weekend on the playa, but unforutnately I only got to do 1 of the 2 flights I had planned due to weather. Said flight was not very successful either - more on that later...

I left Portland about 2:30 on Wednesday afternoon after spending the better part of the day packing and loading up the truck. The first leg of my drive was Portland to Klamath Falls, where I was spending the night. This leg was pretty uneventful, heading down to Eugene and then to Klamath Falls, were I was meeting Robert Braibish, his son Jacob, and a friend of his. Got into town right around 8:00 and met up with them at the parking lot of the little Super8 Motel where I was staying the night. We had a very nice dinner at a local pizza joint with good company and rocket talk. Thanks Robert et al for the invite!

Next morning I was up 6:00, had breakfast, crammed as much hotel ice into my cooler as I could, then checked out the Super8 and filled up the truck at the neighboring Pilot Travel Center before hitting the road. Another pretty long drive, with a quick stop at the California USDA station. When I got to Alturas I ran into Team Numb! We convoyed/played tag for the rest of the drive. Although, there was heavy smoke as I got closer to Gerlach.

I got onto the playa about 12:30 that afternoon and attendance was light at the moment, plus there was a steady stream of cars leaving the playa heading off to Bruno’s for the afternoon (I assume). I spotted the familiar DAWGpack RV down at the far east end of the flightline and was greeted by the familiar team members. I opted to set up camp more-or-less halfway in between them and the rest of the flightline, while saving spots for Robert/Jacob, as well as Dave Camarillo who were all arriving later that day. Robert and Jacob pulled in only an hour or so after I did, as did Team Numb. Got camp set up and had lunch, as the rest of the Pacific NW contingent began to arrive. It was great to put faces with all those names I see on the email list! Dale Woodford, Carl Hamilton, Kent Newman, etc. Team Hardtail as well as Dave didn’t get there until later that evening. It was great to spend the evening and rest of the weekend with you all!

On Friday morning I prepped my first flight of the weekend, “Great BALLS of Fire,” for its second flight, 1st painted. It flew on an M1550R which sim’ed to 22K.

(Photo credit to Robert Braibish.)

Unfortunately when I pushed the button, it never made it quite that far. Partway into boost, one of my drogue charges went off for some reason. This separated the nosecone, tore up the harnesses, shredded both my chutes, and the nosecone with all the electronics inside came in ballistic as it had a pound of lead in it. The last set of coordinates took us (Robert, Jacob, Dave and I) right back to the pad, which meant the GPS has never re-acquired lock. So we started driving around looking for the rocket, until the Hillbillies (I think) called on the FRS radio with reports of a found rocket that met the exact description of mine. We headed over to their pad to talk with them, at which point “something that looked like my rocket” was in sight. Unfortunately, it turned out to just be the airframe (with a short zipper in it), motor case, and some harness. A bit of time spent driving around looking for the nosecone turned up nothing.

After that, I had lunch and worked on prepping Code Blue for its CTI M840 flight. Later that afternoon, I stopped by the LCO desk just to see if any other pieces of my rocket had turned up. And guess what was there? My nosecone! Er, what was left of it anyways. The ballistic recovery had the entire thing broken up very badly. However, both altimeters (Stratologger and an RRC2+) powered on just fine after I replaced the crunched-up 9V batteries, much to my surprise. The RRC2+ did have some mangled up/bent components on the circuit board, but everything was still connected. As luck would have it, Jim Amos from MissileWorks was present at the launch, so later that weekend I got to visit with him and give him my altimeter for him to re-solder and fix back up at the shop. Thanks to Steve Cutonilli as well for bringing back my nosecone – which apparently landed out towards the DAWGpack pads, nowhere near where we were looking. My shredded main chute also returned to LCO table later that weekend thanks to Tony Alcocer, but my GPS and Tender Descender are still out on the playa somewhere…

Plenty of other cool flights Friday, as well as some spectacular CATOS including Brent Rowe’s O6000. I've never seen a mushroom cloud form from a CATO before! There was another O or P motor (I don’t recall who’s it was) that looked good going up for a little while, until the motor blew. It looked quite like a large firework with pieces of burning AP falling from the sky in all directions. “Oh say, can you see…”

Following dinner was another great night with Team Hardtail and the DAWGpack.

Saturday morning I was introduced to Steve Heller, and old friend of Hardtail’s now living in Texas. He was in a bit of a jam as he had intended to fly a 5” EX O11,000 off of Hardtail’s big pad, but it had gotten blown up by Brent’s CATO! My tower was apparently his next best option with the 12’ 1010 rail. After we got Robert's EX L835 flight up (great flight Robert), Steve’s team helped move the tower out to a far-away cell, just past the DAWGpack pads. As we were setting up we got to see Neil Anderson’s 118K 2-stage go up as well as the Hillbilly’s “Huevos” big P/baby Q sparky CATO quite spectacularly! As soon as we wrestled Steve’s rocket onto the tower, the clouds started rolling in and everyone/everything over 8K was shut down. That was all the time we needed - had we been 5 minutes earlier his rocket would have flown. Feeling rather pissed about that whole situation, we packed it up and headed back to camp.

I got lunch going and finished prepping Code Blue in wishfully thinking this would all blow over by Sunday. With not a whole lot of rocket stuff left to do that afternoon, I walked the flightline and joined Team Hardtail for cocktail hour. That evening, Robert/Jacob, Dave and I were all invited over to Brian, Gary and Gary’s (Van't Hul, Lech, and Knaust that is) for dinner. There was lots of great food and good company to be had. Thanks gentlemen!

After dinner I went to Party on the Playa for a bit before heading back over to more “familiar” territory. ;) Next morning it was quite obvious that the clouds were not clearing, so pretty much the entire flightline started packing up, myself included. I said my goodbyes and left the playa right around 10:00 AM, stopping for lunch in Alturas and for fuel a few times along the way. I made it home late Sunday night after one very long drive.

Despite the weather, it was still a really fun weekend that I got to spend with some truly great people. Many thanks to Robert Braibish and Dave Camarillo for being such friendly neighbors, not to mention all their help throughout the weekend. Dave wasn’t there to fly anything this year, just to kick back on the playa and to help others out with their projects, of which he did a fantastic job of. Thanks again Dave, I know Robert and I really appreciated it! Also, thanks to Robert for letting me store my gear in his U-Haul trailer on Saturday night, with the threats of wind and rain rolling in.