Wednesday, May 23, 2012

RIP Jim Chubbuck

So I have this habit of googling old friends on weekend afternoons that I've lost touch with and don't do the internets. I should probably stop doing it, because inevitably I only find them because their obit is on line. Then I feel sad and guilty that I didn't stay in better touch. And thus I just discovered by friend Jim Chubbuck died some years ago. He was a good man, spitting image of Lee Marvin and the person responsible for my years of crewing on a hot air balloon.

She looks small compared to the big balloons here, but when I was in the scene she was always the tallest one on the field. And always went in her own direction. Rarely followed the crowd.

Both the original owners, Bob and Dotty Batchelor and now Jim are gone, so my connection to Topper is rather broken. But glad to see the new owner is still flying her and she's made history as the oldest continously flying balloon:
Topper was built in upstate New York by the Heable brothers of Buoyant Flight Systems, and sold to local radio announcer Robert ("Bob") Batcheller and his wife Dorothy ("Dottie"). Topper is not, like some homebuilts, just some clone of a production balloon. On the contrary, many elements of her design are unique. Originally built with a volume of 56,000 cu. ft., the envelope was a double-layer design (the insulating inner envelope was scrapped when its extra weight forced the balloon to fly too hot). Her capacity was increased, too - twice - first to 80,000 cu. ft. and then to 88,000 (by the hands-down king of homebuilding, Brian Boland). The increase brought with it a color change, too, with white stars on blue replacing the original top's blue stars on white). While the hand-woven basket (built by the Batchellers) is fairly standard, the suspended tubular superstructure is unique, and instantly identifiable. Another innovation not common in '75 was her shrouded burner, which emits a sound recognizable to all who know her. The burner was also designed with an adjustable nozzle, whose 5 settings allowed fuel flow to be optimized for different temperatures (this was redesigned when the inner envelope was eliminated). [More at the link]
She already had the blue top by the time I joined the crew, but proud to have been part of that history. And don't tell the FAA but Jimmy let me fly her more than once in the air. And of course Bob let me give tether rides all the time. Nobody liked to do that. It's a lot of work. But I loved every minute. And it all happened because I jumped on the basket when they needed some weight on to stablize her when they were standing her up at a balloon rally some 30+ years ago now. In many ways, still feels like just yesterday.


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