A high-altitude balloon launched March 18 by cadets in the Connecticut Wing’s 399th Composite Squadron climbed to 121,660 feet – 23.04 miles – to set a record for Civil Air Patrol.
The balloon was launched at 10:14 a.m. and landed at 12:30 p.m., traveling 129.6 miles from Warwick, New York, to Storrs, Connecticut, and capping a two-month aerospace education project.
Different teams focused on planning various aspects of the activity. The launch team planned the launch location and the balloon trajectory, along with the logistics of the flight itself. The build team worked to improve the balloon-borne package containing electronic devices to measure temperature, pressure, light, altitude, and speed. The public affairs team wrote a news release and took photos to document the event. Finally, the search and recovery team planned how to retrieve the package.
The teams met twice a week in the period leading up to the launch. They tested the electronics in the package, added new parts, and charted the course the balloon’s anticipated course based on weather forecasts.
Before liftoff at Warwick Valley Middle School in New York, the launch team inflated the balloon with 210 cubic feet of helium and tested the electronics in the package one last time. Then the lighter-than-air sphere was aloft, swiftly rising with a parachute, data collection package with video camera, and radar reflector in tow.
Some 2¼ hours later the recovery team located the undamaged package using a SPOT GPS tracker linked to members’ cellphones. Cadets contacted the owner of the land where the package landed, and he delivered it at a nearby park.
The undercarriage sustained some damage after landing on rocks, but the main package was safe, and all data was successfully collected. The mission commander, Cadet Capt. Graham Kitchin, presented each recovery team member with the squadron-designed “Shoot for Higher Heights” mission patch.
“I’m extremely proud of the work done by our cadets. This is an incredible achievement and something that we should be very proud of,” said Capt. Devin Pedone, squadron commander.
In comparison, airliners fly at 30,000 feet, the Concorde soared at 60,000 feet, and the SR-71 climbed to 90,000 feet. The mesosphere starts at 31 miles, meaning the 399th Composite’s balloon rose 74% of the way through the stratosphere and also 37% of the way to space, which begins with the Kármán line at 62 miles.
1st Lt. Brian Waldron
Deputy Commander for Cadets
399th Composite Squadron