"Up Up and Away at Piney Campgrounds"

Piney Campgrounds; location in the Southern part of Land Between the Lakes



Greetings from the Flying Pigs from North Central Tennessee. Being bound by the code of radio (CW most of the time) we have been called to assist in a balloon launch from Piney Camp Ground near Dover, TN. The event was the brain child of one of our club members Greg Mann, KZ4ZTI.

The whole thing started at our KF4L C.A.T.S. meeting in Clarksville Tennessee where our vice president John Freed, KX6F decided we needed some ham radio activity that could be a demonstration of ham radio geared for the public. After pondering the subject for a while Al McIrvin, K4RRO brought up an idea of having an information type get together at his work place, Piney Camp Ground. Piney Camp Ground is an outstanding camp ground near Dover Tennessee. It just so happens that Al and his wife work in the camp ground and are always looking for different ways to get things moving around the camp. Al is a recent convert to PSK 31, RTTY and Slow Scan TV. (Although he is trying to learn CW it will be a while before he joins the Flying Pigs) The idea of a ham radio get together would work right into the camp ground and the exposure to the public.

Now Greg Mann has been working on micro processors. His thing is programing chips to make radio transmitters that put out extreme low power on different frequencies. Written on these chips are programs that transmit different types of information back to a ground crew that copies the information using programs that are made for digital communication. These programs can be obtained over the Internet for free and or purchased from programmers that write and sell more powerful programs. The data most often is used to forecast weather but can also contain video and still pictures. Yahoo Groups has a group that is dedicated to amateur radio and TV equipped balloon launches and recoveries. They can be reached at: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Balloonatics/

It just so happens that Greg has made contact with another balloon programmer by the name of William Brown, WB8ELK. William or Bill as he is know is a programmer and also writes articles for radio and technical magazines. Bill currently lives in Madison Alabama and works in the space industry. Bill was able to locate a balloon and program a device for our balloon launch. The only catch was that we would have to travel to Madison Alabama to pick them up. It seems that Bill had another balloon launch going on at the same time as ours and had already made a commitment to assist them in their launch. The only real draw back was that he would not have the device ready until after 7 p.m. on Wednesday. Just three days before our launch date. We would have to travel to pick up the balloon and transmitter.

Not thinking a bit about the trip I told Greg I would be more than happy to go with him to pick up the things needed to make the event take place. With a smile on his face Greg picked me up at my house and at about noon on Wednesday, away we went. The trip was a quick one and when we arrived in Madison we had a couple of hours to spare. We gave Bill a call and he left work to meet us and hand over the device and balloon. We arrived at his house and set up our radios and computers in his kitchen. We wanted to make sure the device was working and that we could copy it with our equipment. Everything checked out and after a quick rundown on filling the balloon and wrapping the device we said goodbye and made our way back to Clarksville. We arrived at about midnight and could not wait to set up our equipment.

The Flying Pigs arrived at the pavilion area of the Piney Camp Ground at about 0930 a.m. on Saturday. Al, K4RRO was already set up with his radio and computer just waiting for the balloon to go up so he could copy it. When we arrived we set up our radio station in case anyone was interested in CW radio and then helped out setting up antennas and radios for anyone who needed our help. When Greg showed up the action began to get hot and heavy. Unloading the helium bottle and setting up the ground cover was a group effort and everything went very smoothly. As soon as the device was rigged up the balloon was attached and filled. The wind was being a problem and we were having some gusts that moved our ground cover around so being real hams we moved trash cans over to keep things in place. With the balloon filled and the rigs all set up to copy it was release time. You guessed it UP UP AND AWAY was the cry from the group and away it went. Now it was to the  radios and computers and getting on frequency. The transmitter was running great and the RTTY signal was coming in like gang busters. After launch Greg made a few phone calls to other hams in different states so that they could track the balloon. This not only gives us conformation of the transmitter working but also allows us to get line barrings on the transmitter. With this information we will be able to locate the transmitter and recover it for another balloon launch. The data received from our transmitter was altitude only. The last height recorded was 90 thousand feet. The balloon as best we can tell came down east of Nashville in the Lebanon area of eastern Tennessee.  What a day...... Just another thing that is done with ham radio.... too much fun.... During the morning many of the campers came and watched both the launch and the operators as they copied the balloon in flight. I would like to thank Al and all the staff of Piney Camp Ground for  being our hosts for this balloon launch.


72, from KM6NN 

For more on THE LAND BETWEEN THE LAKES go here: