Celebrate a Centennial Anniversary of Cluster Ballooning

Celebrate a Centennial Anniversary of Cluster Ballooning

If you have ever seen one of those cluster corkscrews that float across the ocean floor, then you have likely heard of cluster ballooning. This unique form of ballooning, though it does not have the same durability as other forms of ballooning (i.e. its launching locations are farther apart than traditional beach-based cluster formations), has a number of unique advantages over more traditional forms of ocean-based ballooning.

For starters, cluster ballooning presents an unprecedented opportunity to display an extreme variety of scenic views while launching from any location. Unlike other types of ocean-based balloon launches, where typically only a few balloons can launch at a time, cluster ballooning allows any number of balloons to rise into the sky. As a result, there are no more places on which a diver or a skipper can launch. As a result, cluster ballooning presents a unique series of opportunities: the opportunity to launch from remote sites, the opportunity to exhibit unique scenic views, the opportunity to experience the thrill of bungee jumping, the chance to launch without waiting for a weather event to allow the launch of the balloons. And the ultimate, in exciting thrill, the opportunity to launch and watch the formation of the cluster itself as it rises into the sky.

Unfortunately, cluster ballooning also poses a number of risks to participants.

In addition to the dangers of piloting a fixed-wing airplane and the risks posed by throwing the balloon into the air (and therefore potentially launching and hurting oneself if the aircraft is not maneuverable), cluster ballooning presents another set of hazards: potential collision with other aircraft. Specifically, there are two common situations in which collisions may occur. (Flying close to another aircraft) When helicopters are operating in formation, there is always the risk that they will strike either one another or a third aircraft. When balloons are in the air, there is the risk that they could collide with any aircraft in their flight path.

The most likely reason for collisions is because the balloons are traveling at speeds in excess of the speed of sound. Since most English channel crossings take about 40 minutes, this is a considerable amount of time. Since the speed of sound is significantly higher than the rate of the rotation of the Earth, there is the potential for significant wakes created by passing balls during a windy day, especially when the gust of wind is at its strongest.

To minimize the risk of harm during a Formation balloon flight and to reduce the possible impact on nearby aircraft, the following safety measures must be employed: A. A safe pilot should be selected to initiate the flight. B. Ballast should only be used by experienced balloonists. C. Weather considerations should be carefully considered before the operation. D. The appropriate safety harness should be used.

While safety is of utmost importance, a pilot’s personal safety also must be considered. If an experienced pilot is not available to oversee the flight, then he or she should be instructed specifically on how to handle the clusters. The use of personal flotation devices may reduce the chance of serious injury if the pilot loses concentration while in flight. In the case of the single large balloons, each member should wear a life jacket to minimize the risk of being catapulted from the basket.

The use of a sound device, called a dinky-winkles, creates an effect similar to that created by a firefly. The sound device produces a high pitched whine that is annoying to neighboring balloonists, but it is easily noticed if the balloonist is near. The sound produced is intended to wake nearby balloonists, who may be sleeping and to distract them while the cluster ballooning expedition is in progress. Ninky-winkles are also commonly used to call attention to the approaching formation of clusters. Many operators choose to “pinkle” (or feather) their own balloon to enhance the effects of the sound.

Although cluster ballooning has been around for decades, there have been very few recent articles written to mark this sport’s anniversary. As with any adventurous endeavor, one must consider all of the possible hazards and complications before venturing into this unique activity. The Guinness Book of World Records only recognizes extreme adventure sports as well as technical and physical specialties when defining records. Because of the extreme nature of helium balloons and the associated challenges, a unique setting must be found for each record attempt to qualify it for inclusion.

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