Weather Balloon chase. Monday 21st. October 2019

At about 12.30 p.m. my phone rang.

It was Tom, VK5EE, asking if I had been tracking the progress of the balloon which was launched earlier in the morning. Of course I had forgotten all about it. Tom informed me that it was going to come down right on our doorstep – almost – only about a kilometre from the launch site.

I ran inside and informed the treasurer that Tom and I were going out to try to find it and off to collect Tom I went.

Tom jumped into the shopping trolley Mk.11 with his yagi, attenuator, receiver and GPS and off we went.

                                   DOUBLE CLICK ON PHOTO’S TO ENLARGE

We headed out toward the Mount Gambier Airport along Sunnyside Road and turned left into Walkers Rd. After about half a kilometre we picked up the Sondes typical buz buz buz signal and then we lost it. Back up a bit says Tom. Being an obedient sort of bloke I did and the signal reappeared. After a bit of head scratching we finally got out of the car and Tom waived his yagi about a bit. It’s coming from behind that farmhouse says Tom.

Off we go up the driveway, park the car and I go and knock on the front door. No sound ensues. Not to be deterred I walked around the back and tried the back door to be greeted by a very friendly lady in Robin.

I explained what we were up to, including pointing out that we were slightly mad, and she very graciously gave us permission to drive or walk around until we found the thing.

We walked over to the house fence and waived the yagi about a bit more and then Tom spotted the remnants of the balloon and the parachute 100 metres into the paddock. We opened the gate, drove through, closed the gate behind us and headed down to the spot.

I walked over to check the parachute while Tom walked up the hill for 30 metres to find the transmitter. Once he picked it up I rolled up the tether line and picked up the remains of the balloon and the chute so that none of the cattle tried to eat them or got tangled up in the tether.

We then drove out of the paddock, (making sure that we shut the gate as we left), and Robin was out in the garden  and so we stopped and showed her the debris. She seemed very happy that we had picked it all up as she was obviously concerned for the stock and she said neither her or her husband would have know what it was.

We said our thank you’s and headed back to town.

Here are some shots of the balloons path and the data from it’s journey.


Another very pleasant couple of hours whiled away.

Thanks for the heads up Tom.

We will do it again if the Balloon look’s like coming down within a reasonable distance of home.

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Once we had wrapped up at Big Heath C.P. Tom, VK5EE, and I headed over to the Mary Seymour C.P. which is less than 1 km to the South.

Here is the overview map.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Having operated from this Park several times before we knew that a couple of the spots that we have previously used are less than ideal.

DO NOT consider setting up on the North Eastern corner. High tension Power Lines run North South along the Eastern boundary and the RF noise is horrific. Having learned our lesson on that one we had then tried a spot along the drain as marked on the map here. Unfortunately, this spot was a bit cramped and the options for antenna orientation were limited.

Click on photo to enlarge.

We decided to travel along the Western boundary in search of a new spot. We had almost given up due to the apparent thickness of the scrub when we found a clearly marked track leading in and headed East. On driving in a couple of hundred metres we found a reasonable clearing, (Old quarry we think), which had room to set up in. I hopped out, grabbed my modified Star Dropper support stake and tried to hammer it into the ground. 50mm and I had struck solid rock. Move a metre and try again. Same result. Move 10 metres – same again. Hmm. Plan B called for. We strapped the squid pole to a convenient, if somewhat gnarly, bush and we were good to go.

Still smarting from the less than happy experience with my NEW dipole we set up the PAR end fed for 40 metres. Once again the KX3 failed to give us any sound and so, once again, Tom’s FT-857 came to the rescue. (No tuner was used this time).

Tom began well with a steady flow of callers. Unfortunately we were swamped a number of times by full power stations just taking over the frequency. (Due to skip they may even have been there when we asked if the frequency was in use, but were unable to hear us even though, at times we ran 100 watts). QSB was also prevalent with a number of stations going from barely audible to 57 or so and back to almost zero again in quick time.

Tom, VK5EE, looking busy.

Click to enlarge.

We did a bit better in this Park as Tom was able to get 5 contacts while I managed eleven.

The general site layout. Antenna is tied to tree in foreground.

At this point, (about 2.20 p.m.), we decided to call it a day as the hit rate had slowed dramatically.

Tom thinking. Should I, or not?

We packed up and headed for home about an hour to the South in Mt. Gambier.

Whilst travelling we decided that neither of us was really all that enthusiastic about going out again on Sunday and we therefore decided that we should abandon that plan.

When I got home I posted the cancellation notice on the  VK Parks and SOTA summits site.

We apologise for any inconvenience this may have caused.

We must now have a good look at the gear in an effort to find what went wrong and, if possible, fix the problems.

This weekend has pointed out the need to always check your gear before you head out for an activation.


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After being absent from the Park Activator lists for far too long I decided that now would be a good time to extract the digit and get back into the swing of things. With an abysmal setup at home, (Antenna wise anyway), being out in the bush is excellent therapy as the noise floor is, usually, almost non existent.

I therefore rang Tom, VK5EE, as he has come along on quite a few of my previous activations. Tom readily agreed that we should go out as this weekend was the sixth anniversary of the start of the South Australia National and Conservation Park activity. Paul, VK5PAS instigated this and then followed on with getting the VK Flora and Fauna Park activity off the ground here in Australia. How successful has that proved to be.

Anyway – having decided that we would go out to help celebrate the weekend we then needed to decide which Parks should receive our attention.

After checking the list of who was planning on doing what we settled on activating Big Heath C.P. on Saturday morning, Mary Seymour on Saturday afternoon and then Penambol C.P. on Sunday morning followed by Ewens Ponds in the afternoon.

With the planning stages out of the way I built up a new dipole antenna as we felt that we would need 80 metres in our arsenal because the propagation has been very “iffy” for 40 metres.

I picked Tom up at 9 am on Saturday and off we went. The drive up to Big Heath was uneventful.

Click on picture to enlarge

On arriving I decided that we should try a different spot this time and so we followed the road in until we got to drain M. As there was a nice large gum tree standing alone between the track which followed the drain to the West and the drain itself we had our antenna support.

Click on picture to enlarge

We hauled the “Cebik” dipole, (44 feet per side as I ran out of wire while building it, (sigh), and fed with 300 Ohm ladder line), up into the tree and we were ready to go.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Getting the dipole strung up proved to be a bit of a pain. One leg had to be tied to a tree which was almost at the bottom of the drain and Tom had a fair bit of trouble trying to climb back up the bank to get out. Then the feedline got wrapped around the dipole legs and needed a few laps to unwind it.

On connecting my KX3 to the manual tuner, which was coupled to the ladder line, we could hear nothing. Altering the tuner settings made no difference. Bugger. Swapped a short co-ax jumper  for another one and we had some noise – but not much. We swapped the manual tuner over with Tom’s LDG YT-100 and we had noise but not much. Took the KX3 out and put Tom’s Yaesu FT-857 in line and BINGO – we had some signals. Dam – it looks as though the KX3 is faulty – along with the MFJ manual tuner and a co-ax jumper lead. Not a good start.

Anyway – to cut a long story short we started to make some contacts. It was very obvious that the bands were not in good shape with a lot of QSB. Also, the dipole did not want to tune at all on 80 metres. Things were looking pretty sad at this point but we persevered.

Tom, VK5EE. Looking busy.

Tom worked a total of six contacts from this park while I only managed two.

Overview of the operating spot. The causeway in the foreground.

Another very pleasant hour or two in the bush but it was now time to move across to the Mary Seymour C.P. for the afternoon activation.

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Balloons Again? Friday 1st. March 2019

With a forecast temperature of 40C, (104F),  today Tom, VK5EE, and I were in two minds about chasing this one.

a. Extreme fire danger.

b. High levels of personal discomfort.

We decided to watch and wait, as usual, but the balloon needed to land in the clear and not in a Pine Plantation as access is prohibited in the event of a fire ban.

The prediction looked promising.

NOTE: Click on pictures to enlarge.

I had to attend to another matter and we therefore did not set off until 2.30 p.m., well after the balloon had landed. The Balloons keep transmitting until the internal battery goes flat and so we felt that we should still be able to pick up the signal and direction find it.

We headed North through Tarpeena and turned right onto P.O.W. Road. As per our track we turned left and again headed North after about five Km.

Once on the right track, (Between an open paddock on our left and a stand of Pine trees on our right we picked up the signal).

Tom got out of the car, and after connecting his home built yagi with it’s attenuator in line, he walked along the track waving the antenna about. I followed in the car as it was apparent that we were a fair way short of the Balloon. (I’m not silly – it was bloody hot out there and the car air conditioner was working well).

It quickly became apparent that I had got the wrong clump of trees and we had to travel to the second clump before we arrived at the spot that Hab Hub indicated for the approximate landing spot. (Sorry Tom).

At this point Tom had full attenuation switched in and the signal was still booming in. We hopped the fence into the paddock.

After wandering around for ten minutes or more scanning the open paddock and gazing up into the large gum trees we were not able to visually find any trace of the Balloon, (which I thought a bit unusual).

I had almost given up and was retracing my steps back toward the road when I spotted the Sonde lying on the ground.

Once we picked it up it was obvious that the tether line had been cut, either by being dragged back and forth across a branch or the trunk of a tree as there was no sign of the 10 metres or so of tether line or the remnants of the Balloon or the parachute. Very strange.

We scanned the trees once again but still no sign of the rest of the bits. Maybe the Land Owner saw the mess of the remains of the Balloon and parachute while checking his stock and picked it up to avoid the sheep trying to eat it. Whatever – the absence of the remains shall remain a mystery- but we rescued the main bit.

Having, once again, found the Sonde we headed for home.

Despite the oppressive heat it was a good couple of hours and another successful outcome. Good fun.

Until next time.


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29th. February 2019. Another successful Balloon chase.

Tom, VK5EE, and I haven’t chased a balloon for a little while now as the landing predictions have placed them just a little bit too far away. The prediction for Thursday 29th. looked promising though.

NOTE: Double click on the photo’s to enlarge.

It looked as though it would land just South of Dartmoor in Victoria. We waited until it had landed and decided that it might be do-able, even although it appeared that the landing site was surrounded by scrub and Pine Plantations which would make the effort a bit risky.

We loaded up the gear and headed off.

Here is a map showing our track.

We made a bit of a detour into Dartmoor to have a look at Fort O’Hare on the Glenelg River, which is where Major Mitchell established his base Camp for a boat trip down the river to the Mouth.

We drove South along the Wanwin Road and quickly picked up the Balloons signal on 401.5 Mhz. When we got to where we thought the Balloon had come down we lost the signal, Hmmm. We backtracked and turned down a Salmic Road which was heading East toward the River. Halfway along this Road we again lost the signal. Returning to  Wanwin Road we stopped, and Tom got out his newly built yagi antenna and was able to establish that we had passed the Balloon further back toward Dartmoor. We backtracked again, stopping to check the signal strength a few times until we parked on the side of the Road in C.S.R. Lane. It was 36 degrees Celsius outside, (We must qualify for a “Nut Case Award”), but we got out and started walking South back along the road.

At this point I was beginning to think that we had wasted our time because the area was surrounded by trees and Scrub and the chance of the Balloon ending up high above ground looked very possible.

After walking for several hundred metres, and in a couple of false directions, (due to reflection of the signal), Tom reckoned that we must have been almost standing on the Balloon.

I spotted a bit of clear plastic almost on the edge of the bitumen. When we got closer we found that it was the parachute. At first we assumed that the balloon and it’s payload must have hit the High Tension Power lines which were running alongside the road and the tether had been cut, but on tracking the tether we found the Sonde just off the Road about 20 metres from the Parachute.

How lucky can you get.

After picking up the remnants of the Balloon we headed for home.

Tom’s new home brewed yagi performed very well indeed and without it we almost certainly would not have been able to find the Sonde.

Another interesting and enjoyable few hours out and about. (Even though it was VERY HOT). We were very careful where we went with the car, being conscious of the risk of hot exhausts and very dry grass. We made sure that we only parked on patches of bare ground.

Until next time, I hope that you enjoyed this post and I am hopeful that the next one will be a multi S.A. Park Activation on 23rd. & 24th. March. Watch this space..

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Here we go again. Balloon chase Monday 28th. January 2019

The radiosonde is a small, expendable instrument package that is suspended below a 1.8 metre wide balloon filled with hydrogen or helium. As the radiosonde rises at about 300 meters/minute, sensors on the radiosonde measure profiles of pressure, temperature, and relative humidity. These sensors are linked to a battery powered transmitter that sends the measurements to a ground receiver. By tracking the position of the radiosonde in flight, information on wind speed and direction aloft is also obtained. Observations where winds aloft are also obtained are called “rawinsonde” observations.

The radiosonde flight can last in excess of two hours, and during this time the radiosonde can ascend to over 35,000 meters and drift more than 200 km from the release point. During the flight, the radiosonde is exposed to temperatures as cold as -92C and an air pressure only a few thousandths of what is found on the Earth’s surface.


At liftoff, the balloon is around 1.5 metres tall and 1.2 metres wide. Because the pressure outside the balloon lessens as it goes higher in the atmosphere, the balloon expands. By the time the balloon reaches 30,500 metres it has grown to the height of a two story building. When the balloon has expanded beyond its elastic limit and bursts, a small parachute slows the descent of the radiosonde, minimizing the danger to lives and property.

NOTE: Click on pictures for a larger view.

The balloon launched from the weather bureau site at the western side of the

Mt. Gambier Airport at 9.45 a.m. on Monday morning and Tom, VK5EE, and I

Started tracking it as soon as we had acquired it’s signal.

The projected track would see the balloon and it’s payload landing somewhere

To the North East of Dartmoor.

The potential for finding it seemed to be promising at this stage.

Tom and I waited patiently for the balloon to land.

At this point neither of us have the capacity to track the balloons path from a car and we must, therefore, wait for it to land and then go to the nearest point that we can from the actual touch down and find the Sonde by using directional antennas and attenuators.

So far this has proved to be an easy and, almost, foolproof method but, this time, it really challenged us because of the nature of the scrub that it came down in.

Switching now from the Map view to the Satellite view it becomes obvious that this chase is going to be a challenge.

From the slide above it is easy to see the last know position of the balloon but at this point it is still at an altitude of 355 metres and heading East.
It is here that we realised that we were in for a challenge.
Tom broke out the gear which comprised his Icom RC_10 hand held receiver, a three element Yagi for 70 cm and a step attenuator.

Although we had clear paddocks on one side it was obvious that the balloon had drifted over them and into the scrub.

On getting out of the car and connecting the antenna to the radio, (with the attenuator in line), we could hear the balloon quite well but not on our Baoffeng hand helds, so it was obvious that we were going to have to go into the scrub and expend a bit of effort.

You can see the paddocks on the left, scrub on the right. What about the snakes you ask.
No problem – we are both fearless. (Ahem?)

Without a second thought we plunged into the unknown. As you can see the scrub was quite thick.

Fortunately life was made a little bit easier by being able to, mostly, navigate along very narrow animal tracks, Kangaroos probably, but occasionally we had to bush bash. The signals waxed and waned and we had to change direction a few times as the signal got a bit confused. The three element beam showed it’s shortcomings a bit because of the lack of focus. Without the attenuator we would have been wasting our time.

After about half, or was it three quarters of an hour, Tom reckoned we must be standing right on top of the Sonde as he had full attenuation switched in on the beam and we could hear the Sonde loud and clear on the Baoffengs with the antenna removed.

After looking around for a few seconds I raised my eyes to the heavens and spotted the tether line arcing through the trees.

After recovering the Sonde we walked back looking for the Balloon. It was hanging in a tree about 12 metres away and about 10 metres in the air. It is probably still there.

After congratulating each other on a very good outcome we set off to retrace our steps.

As that was nearly impossible we headed in the general direction and bush bashed back out to the road,

Emerging on the fire break between the paddocks and the scrub about 200 metres South of the car.

After getting back to the car and packing away the radio gear and the Sonde we guzzled a bit of nice cold water and set off for home.

The last photo shows the Shopping Trolley about to turn out of Spencers Track onto the Old Dartmoor Casterton Road

Another adventure done and dusted.

Thanks to Tom for the good company and his excellent skills in DF-ing the thing.


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Yet another successful Balloon chase.

Today’s weather balloon launch was looking promising as the prediction was for it to land just East of Nangwarry in the Lower South East of South Australia, only about 18 kms from home. After contacting Charles, VK5HD, and finding out that he and partner Linley were expecting a new arrival at any moment I let Charles off the hook and rang Tom, VK5EE.  Tom was up for it and so I arranged to meet at his place at 10.15 a.m. (All very civilised). Upon arriving at Tom’s we sat and watched as Hab Hub tracked the balloons path and it became obvious that things were not exactly sticking to the original script. Just after eleven I went home for some lunch and returned to Tom’s at about 11.45 a.m. when we set off as by then the balloon had landed. We drove North from Mt. Gambier to Tarpeena and turned right at McEnroes Road which runs along the North Eastern boundary of the town. We carried on for about 5.5 km and turned right into a pine break.


We parked the shopping trolley about 100 metres in from the bitumen after travelling to the first cross break, turning around and heading back toward McEnroe Rd. According to the tracker the Sonde was on the Eastern side of the break. We both scouted around a bit and I walked into the young pines about 20 metres and turned and headed back toward the main road. Every tree had a spider web attached to it with a gnarly little spider sitting in the middle waiting to devour my face. Showing incredible dedication I pushed on until I reached the bitumen where I turned East before heading back into the pines about 20 metres further along. My radio was silent the whole time. After about 10 minutes Tom called me up to say that he had found the Sonde on the Western side of the break which meant that it had reversed direction before landing and ended up about 100 metres West of the predicted landing spot. Tom, who had a small beam with him did a mighty job of direction finding the thing as the tree cover was very thick and the young pines were 3-4 metres high.









After collecting all of the bits we headed for home for a very well earned cold drink as it was very hot in the pines today.

Another successful mission.

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Weather sonde chase. Monday 14th. January 2019

This is my first post in what seems like ages. (Probably because it is).

Recently a number of South East Radio Group members have been tracking weather balloons here in South East South Australia.

A balloon is released automatically from the Mount Gambier Airport each Monday and Thursday morning at 10.45 a.m. local time and if some unusual weather conditions are expected, at any time.

We watch the predicted flight path on Hab Hub Predictor and then track the actual flight path on Hab Hub Tracker. Sometimes the two plots agree and others not very well.

The prediction for yesterdays balloon originally had it landing somewhere near Hamilton but this was revised to a spot just East of Strathdownie in Victoria.

Double click on pictures to enlarge them

Charles, VK5HD rang me at about 11 a.m. and asked if I was going to chase it or if I might be interested in doing so. As it was not going to be very far from the Mount I suggested that I ring Tom, VK5EE, and invite him as well. Charles agreed and Tom and I met up with him at his home in Mt. Gambier at 1 p.m. and off we went.

After crossing the border on the way to Casterton we turned right onto West Strathdownie Road and then turned right onto McGrath’s Road. We travelled along McGrath’s Road for a short time until our GPS indicated that we were getting close to the landing area.

Charles had his hand held on and tuned to 401.500 Mhz. and right on cue we started to hear the signals from the Sonde. It had landed pretty much exactly where the tracker had placed it. We turn off McGraths road and drove a few hundred metres up along the Western edge of a stand of pine trees and parked.

After climbing over the fence into the paddock Charles thought he could see the Sonde but it turned out to be the wool from a sheep carcass.

Col, VK5HCF thought that he saw it just a bit to the North and so we changed direction and carried on walking. Bingo. There was the Balloon, (in tatters of course), and the parachute. Col traced the flimsy line from the tangled mess of the Balloon back to the actual sonde. The line was surprisingly long, maybe 30 metres or so.

All good. Charles coiled the whole mess up and we carried it all back to the car pretty happy with such an easy recovery.

We were only away for about an hour or so which meant minimal disruption to our day.

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No posts for ages.

Unfortunately I have not been active at all lately.

Hopefully this will change very soon.


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Gower C.P. 5CP-079. VKFF-0798.

Once I had finished my activation of the Tantanoola Caves C.P. I moved around the corner, (see map in the Tantanoola Caves C.P. post below), and set up in my usual spot in a small clearing 50 metres from the four way corner on the North Western edge of the Park.

This spot has just enough room to set up a 40 metre antenna, park the car off the road and still have room for the table and chair, battery etc. I have driven around most of the Park boundary and have yet to find a better spot as most of the Park appears to be covered in knee deep bracken fern. After my close encounter with an amorous pair of Tiger snakes whilst at Penambol C.P. on the Saturday afternoon this puts me off as it’s a fair distance to medical help if you get bitten.

My first contact occured at 04:42 UTC and was with Andrew, VK5MR who was portable in the Lake Torrens N.P. West of Roxby Downs, so I started this activation off in style with a rare one.

I stayed in this park for about an hour and a half before packing up and heading home but, although it was hard work getting my eight contacts I enjoyed every minute. The weather was reasonable, given that at one point it rained over at Tantanoola and the clouds looked threatening all day. (Although the sun came out and it warmed up as I was heading home.

Click to enlarge

Here is a copy of my F.L.E. log entry for this Park.

Although not big on quantity it is big on quality.

Many thanks to those who gave me a call, (and who I was fortunate enough to be able to actually work due to the up and down conditions).

As I said before, I enjoyed the day, and hope that I can overcome my lack of motivation and get out in the bush again soon.

73 & 44 to all.

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