Pharos-Tribune

Local News

January 3, 2013

Weather balloon crashes near Walton

Wis. man captures space photos with device, tracks it with GPS

LINCOLN — A high-altitude weather balloon, outfitted with cameras and video equipment, traveled nearly 200 miles from Illinois and crash-landed near Lincoln Sunday, capturing along the way spectacular space photos after floating more than 18 miles above the Earth.

John Flaig, a 38-year-old computer programmer from Milwaukee, Wis., launched the balloon at around 6 a.m. on a frigidly cold Sunday from a public park in Mendota, Ill.

Four-and-a-half hours and 178 miles later, it parachuted from the stratosphere and landed just a few feet away from U.S. 35, about 1 mile south of Lincoln, after clipping the top of a tree and careening into power lines.

An hour after that, Flaig and his brother arrived on scene to retrieve the balloon. All morning, they had tracked its flight path from a GPS device installed in the balloon’s “payload box,” which housed the cameras and recording equipment.

As it headed southeast, the two drove into Indiana and criss-crossed the state to keep up with the balloon, watching its progression on the GPS. At 10:40 a.m., the balloon stopped moving. Flaig and his brother raced down U.S. 35 from Logansport, where they found it in tatters.

The cameras, however, were completely intact, and what they revealed were stunning near-space video footage of the full moon, smokestacks in Gary at sunrise and Lake Michigan. Flaig retrieved the equipment and the remains of the balloon, and drove back to Wisconsin.

It all begs the question: why?

“I have some nerdy interests, I guess,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday from Wisconsin.

Flaig said he first got interested in near-space photography after watching videos of similar weather-balloon launches on YouTube.

What really pushed him to try it himself, however, was watching footage of stunt-man Felix Baumgartner parachuting 24 miles from the Earth’s stratosphere in October.

“That sealed the deal,” he said.

For a month, Flaig said he researched the ins and outs of high-altitude weather balloons — how to built them, what kind of equipment to buy, weather patterns and so forth.

In early December, he took his first stab at it, launching a balloon from Calmar, Iowa, that traveled 340 miles and set down in woods near Cedar Spring, Mich. Flaig said he was able to retrieve the payload box from that landing, but only after the woman who owned the land cut down the tree it was lodged in and mailed it to him.

He decided to try the next launch in Illinois so the balloon had a good chance of landing in an empty field somewhere in northeastern Indiana, he said.

“I thought this area looked pretty good,” he said. “It’s really kind of amazing that it landed by the only road around and not in one of the giant tracks of farmland.”

Flaig said he also wanted to wait until the next full moon so he could photograph it from the stratosphere.

Although it may sound like a complicated undertaking, Flaig said launching a near-space weather balloon is really quite doable with the advent of cheaper new mobile technology.

He said radio transmitters, FCC licenses and electronics and soldering skills are no longer required to track and recover balloons.

Now amateur enthusiasts can use consumer-level tracking devices, and new high-definition video cameras have increased the quality of photos and video.

“I’m just a regular person, and I can do something like this,” he said. “It’s really kind of a growing hobby among nerdy type of people like me.”

Flaig said he was happy with how the most recent launch went. The photos looked great, and he was able to retrieve the balloon easily from U.S. 35, he said.

“It was a pretty great adventure,” he said. “It definitely adds a little excitement to your Sunday morning to chase a weather balloon across the Midwest. Then you have the ultimate payoff — capturing awesome photos from space.”

For his next launch, Flaig said he wants to wait until summer and try to snag photos of a thunderstorm from far above the clouds.

“Each time it’s like a new experience with its own surprises and problems,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Carson Gerber is a Kokomo Tribune reporter. He may be reached by phone at 765-854-6739, or by email at carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • NWS-PT080114 Bow Fishing.jpg Man vs. fish: Niche sport takes bows, arrows to the water In the fight against Asian carp, local outdoors enthusiasts are increasingly turning to bowfishing — in which you don’t wait for the fish to come to you. You send an arrow straight to them.Bowfishing has become an increasingly popular sport according

    August 1, 2014 1 Photo

  • 2nd annual bike ride slated Saturday WINAMAC — Dozens of bike riders will take over the Panhandle Pathway Saturday for the second annual Down and Back bike ride.The 44-mile trail begins in Winamac and extends all the way to near France Park in Kenneth. Kelly Hines, spokesperson for the

    August 1, 2014

  • Miami County struggles through computer shutdown PERU (AP) — A northern Indiana prosecutor has harshly criticized other officials in his county for not adequately dealing with computer problems that have effectively brought some business to a halt. Prosecutor Bruce Embrey said Miami County governme

    August 1, 2014

  • Trial dates moved in Wagoner clinic drug case KOKOMO — Trial dates for seven of the eight people charged in the Wagoner Clinic prescription drug case have been moved to Oct. 3.Several of the suspects, including Marilyn Wagoner, the wife of Donald Wagoner, the former head of the clinics, were set

    August 1, 2014

  • No Headline Provided In a story titled “Cass Co. foundation aims for large grant” on Page One of Thursday’s edition, the source of Lilly Endowment grant-matching funds was misstated. Those funds will come from the foundation’s donors. We regret the error.

    August 1, 2014

  • Police Blotter: July 31, 2014 Have a tip? Anyone with information on a crime is encouraged to call Crime Stoppers at 800-222-TIPS. Information leading to an arrest or conviction could lead to a reward of up to $1,000.

    July 31, 2014

  • NWS-PT073114 Hopper2.jpg The right track: Logansport boy advocates railroad crossing safety

    It's not uncommon to see 12-year-old Ethan Hopper sitting in a lawn chair near his father's business on 18th Street in Logansport, his cell phone pointed at a locomotive heading down the nearby tracks. The engines make up a fascination modern technol

    July 31, 2014 2 Photos 1 Link

  • Cass Co. Community Foundation eligible for grant

    The Cass County Community Foundation is eligible to receive half a million dollars from Lilly Endowment Inc. as a matching grant at some point over the course of the next couple of years.Lilly Endowment announced the sixth phase of its Giving Indiana

    July 31, 2014

  • Locals: EPA delay request too late Logansport officials say while they appreciate a state executive’s request to delay new rules on coal power plants, its timing still requires pursuing a new power plant for the city.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published last month its Cl

    July 31, 2014

  • Supreme Court observers predict ‘wide open’ process of picking of next chief INDIANAPOLIS — State Supreme Court Chief Justice Brent Dickson surprised observers in June when he decided to step down after a brief tenure in the leadership post.Another surprise may be in store when his replacement is named.A seven-member panel of

    July 31, 2014

Featured Ads
More pharostribune.com
Hyperlocal Search
Premier Guide
Find a business

Walking Fingers
Maps, Menus, Store hours, Coupons, and more...
Premier Guide
AP Video
Couple Channel Grief Into Soldiers' Retreat WWI Aviation Still Alive at Aerodrome in NY Raw: Rescuers at Taiwan Explosion Scene Raw: Woman Who Faced Death Over Faith in N.H. Clinton Before 9-11: Could Have Killed Bin Laden Netanyahu Vows to Destroy Hamas Tunnels Obama Slams Republicans Over Lawsuit House Leaders Trade Blame for Inaction Malaysian PM: Stop Fighting in Ukraine Cantor Warns of Instability, Terror in Farewell Ravens' Ray Rice: 'I Made a Huge Mistake' Florida Panther Rebound Upsets Ranchers Small Plane Crash in San Diego Parking Lot Busy Franco's Not Afraid of Overexposure Fighting Blocks Access to Ukraine Crash Site Dangerous Bacteria Kills One in Florida Workers Dig for Survivors After India Landslide Texas Scientists Study Ebola Virus Smartphone Powered Paper Plane Debuts at Airshow Southern Accent Reduction Class Cancelled in TN
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
Poll

Should the U.S. impose a travel ban on three West African nations in response to a growing Ebola virus outbreak?

Yes
No
Not sure
     View Results
eEdition