15:43 PM

Nev. Squadron's Balloon Climbs Nearly 60,000 Ft.

2nd Lt. Holly Addleman
Public Affairs Officer
Henderson Composite Squadron
Nevada wing

A dry lake bed near Jean, Nevada, was the launch site recently when more than two dozen Henderson Composite Squadron cadets, senior members and supporters gathered to send their helium-filled test balloon skyward.

The balloon remained airborne for 2 hours and 45 minutes. Telemetry data shows it reached an altitude of nearly 60,000 feet -- just under 11.4 miles -- and traveled a total distance of nearly 80 miles. The team tracked the balloon to its eventual landing site nearly 65 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

This was the second in a series of high-altitude balloon launches that 1st Lts. Thomas Whitcomb and Ken Kennedy initiated last year with the goal of building and flying low-cost weather balloon payloads into the stratosphere, recording sensor data and attempting to break a world record by attaining 200,000 feet while also being the first to capture a 360-degree video.

Whitcomb is the squadron’s aerospace education officer and Kennedy the assistant aerospace education officer. The two committed numerous hours to fund-raising, planning, equipment design and launch.

Lt. Col. Dan Wilcox, squadron leadership officer, led the recovery of the payload.

The ground team tracked the balloon’s progress visually and with assistance provided by the telemetry/ ground station. The payload consisted of multiple cameras and a Tracksoar APRS telemetry transmitter. The flight cameras captured video, and the telemetry equipment measured the balloon’s altitude, location, temperature, wind speed and air pressure, then transmitted the data to the ground station, built by 2nd Lt. Ken Brand, the unit’s communications officer.

The ground station consisted of a radio receiver fed from a custom-built antenna. Data then fed to a laptop computer for decoding. Brand also built a custom software solution that stores data packets, displays data to the user interface and calculates bearing to the balloon.

Whitcomb hoped the balloon project would encourage cadets to become more interested in aerospace and STEM education while also developing their interpersonal skills. It “provides a different way for students to learn, and one that could result in greater enthusiasm and understanding of aerospace principles and teamwork,” he said.

While the team continues to process data, Kennedy trusts that all involved would call the most recent launch a success. The team plans iterations based on lessons learned and anticipates an even more successful test launch next month.

“I could not be prouder of the dedication shown by these cadets and senior members,” said the squadron's commander, Lt. Col. Pete Goertzen. “Regardless of the final outcome, this ambitious project has taken many, many months of effort, planning and resourcefulness. It is my hope that the cadets will continue to set their sights high and use their resources as well as they have within this project.”

The next launch is set for Sept. 21. It will feature a dual-balloon concept.

The balloon team consists of:

  • Lt. Cols. Peter Goertzen and Daniel Wilcox
  • 1st Lts. Kenneth Kennedy and Thomas Whitcomb
  • 2nd Lts. Ken Brand and Carey Goertzen
  • Cadet Chief Master Sgts. Heili Petrisca, Costa Stamanis and Robert Stamanis
  • Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Payce Anderson
  • Cadet Staff Sgt. Trevor Wilcox
  • Cadet Airmen 1st Class Michael Brand and Quintin Healey
  • Cadet Airman Aiden Hemenway and Benjamin Pratt