Friday, December 12, 2014

613th AOC provides command and control for Yama Sakura 67

by Capt. AnnMarie Annicelli
Headquarters Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

12/12/2014 - JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii  -- U.S. Air Force and U.S. Army members from the 613th Air and Space Operations Center collaborated with members from the Japan Air Self Defense Force here Dec. 8 through 13 on exercise Yama Sakura 67, the largest U.S. Army annual bilateral exercise in Asia-Pacific region.

Yama Sakura's primary focus is on the development and refinement of bilateral planning, coordination and interoperability between the U.S. and Japan's militaries.

The Airmen and Soldiers from the 613th AOC played a vital role by providing command and control expertise and air operations planning.

"The 613th AOC provided two primary capabilities to YS67 to include forward deployed command and control experts for the planning and execution of air operations, as well as hosting Japanese officers from their air defense command to share U.S. perspectives on air and missile defense capabilities and how we conduct joint command and control of U.S. air defense assets," explained U.S. Air Force Col. David Moeller, 613th AOC commander.

With Yama Sakura scenarios centered on the defense of Japan, a priority for the 613th AOC Combat Plans Division was to ensure the integration of command and control and integrated air and missile defense.

"One of the components of YS67 is defending Japanese territory, population and U.S. interests in the region from air and missile attack," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Joseph Munger, Plans Officer, 5th Battlefield Coordination Detachment, 613th AOC. "YS67 provides a good venue for the JASDF and Pacific Air Forces to further their planning efforts to develop bilateral plans in defense of these types of attacks.

"I've participated in three iterations of Yama Sakura, and the thing that impresses me the most is how the complexity continues to grow and how we improve our coordination each year," Munger added.

In addition to a focus on command and control and integrated air and missile defense, 613th AOC Combat Plans Division focused their attention on coordinating with the U.S. Army and JASDF to create planning documents to prioritize targets, intelligence and air-refueling capabilities, as well as to provide overall airspace management planning.

"The overarching 613th AOC mission is command and control of air power for Pacific Command's area of responsibility," Moeller added. "We are the senior control node for the Joint Force Air Component Commander and the Area Air Defense Commander, two authorities the PACOM commander has delegated to the PACAF commander; for scenarios like the ones exercised in YS67, we can provide a command and control reach-back capability in case anything bad happened in Japan."

Wolf Pack charges through Beverly Bulldog 15-1

by Senior Airman Divine Cox
8th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/12/2014 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- The sound of snow plows filled the streets of Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea. Dec. 3, as operational readiness exercise Beverly Bulldog 15-1 kicked off.

The Wolf Pack participated in an operational readiness exercise alongside other 7th Air Force units and the ROK Air Force's 38th Fighter Group, testing their combined strength and readiness.

Not only did Airmen test wartime skills they don't practice during normal armistice conditions, but they also had to perform while enduring the extreme cold with more than 40 inches of snow accumulating throughout the exercise.

Near the start of the exercise when snowfall was the highest, Col. Ken "Wolf" Ekman, 8th Fighter Wing commander, said he was asked by many people what he would do differently in combat under this extreme weather.

"We would have done nothing differently," Ekman said. "We are going to defend our base, return our installation to some sort of operating status, and then when weather enables us, we are going to generate and fly aircraft."

During the exercise, Kunsan Airmen demonstrated their ability to complete the mission in various combat environments and scenarios.

Wolf Pack defenders safeguarded the base by providing extra building protection and manning all defense fighting positions during simulated ground attack scenarios.

"I got excited when I heard the ground attack alarms go off," said Airman 1st Class Evan Rios, 8th Security Forces augmentee. "This cold weather and snow made it extra challenging to just sit around and wait on something to happen. The sound of that alarm got my blood boiling, and I was excited for some action."

While the defenders were busy protecting the base, the 8th Maintenance Group worked around the clock to generate sorties in all mission-oriented protective posture levels.

Staff Sgt. Cody Newell, 8th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, said his main job for this exercise was not to just prepare the aircraft to fly, but to also generate sorties.

"The flight line was covered in snow," Newell said. "Besides the normal shoveling of snow to get the jets ready to taxi, we tried to stay nice and warm and not be out in the cold too much."

While Airmen adapted to the first snows of the season, this ORE also redefined how the Wolf Pack works with ROKAF during exercises.

For the first time, 38th FG airmen joined 8th FW leadership in the Emergency Operations Center, providing a critical linkage between the two organizations and highlighting how Kunsan fights as one single installation instead of two teams.

"ROKAF's presence in the EOC meant a lot for both the 8th FW and 38th FG," said ROKAF 1st Lt. Joo Jung Ho, 38th FG interpreter. "We always boast of our ability to fight together and win, so this was our opportunity to test ourselves. The only way to improve our coordination is to do more combined exercises. This is the only way to sharpen our combined skills."

During BB 15-1, Airmen repeatedly practiced multiple wartime scenarios to hone their skills in areas they don't get to practice during normal day-to-day operations, Ekman said. This, in turn, makes the Wolf Pack stronger and better prepared to face its adversaries.

"I really appreciate the strong team effort Airmen gave during Beverly Bulldog 15-1," he said. "The weather has been very difficult, but I couldn't be more proud of how the Wolf Pack handled it. We are truly ready to fight tonight."

Sheppard Airmen disarm potential threat, earn medal for courage

by Airman 1st Class Robert L. McIlrath
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

12/12/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas  -- Most Airmen attend parties to unwind from a long week and have a good time, but it doesn't always work out that way.

Airman 1st Class Joe Serna and Airman Pauanthony Stamps, 82nd Security Forces Squadron entry controllers, were presented Air Force Commendation Medals on Nov. 31, 2014, for acts of courage when they took a loaded pistol away from a heavily intoxicated Airman at a party.

"I just did what I figured anyone would do in a situation like that," Serna said, "what I hope anyone would do under those circumstances."

During the evening of Sept. 13, 2014, while at a party, Serna and Stamps distinguished themselves by intervening when a highly intoxicated fellow Airman brandished a loaded pistol in the dormitory and verbally threatened the lives of those around him.

"We were at the party just hanging out," Serna said. "A good bit of people were there and I noticed he was pretty drunk at this point, I saw him go to his room and then came out with a pistol in his waistband."

After spotting the weapon and realizing the situation was starting to spiral out of control, Serna and Stamps knew they needed to act fast. The individual quickly became enraged, fueled by alcohol and confined to the small dorm room party area packed with people, ingredients for a recipe for a disaster. 

Both Airmen quietly started to discuss the situation away from the loud music and partygoers. They quickly assembled a plan to intervene and disarm the intoxicated Airman. Serna and Stamps relied on their training and knew isolating him was key.

"We got him to walk with us away from the party and then Stamps crept up behind him and grabbed his arms so he wouldn't be able to pull out the gun," Serna said. "I took the gun away and unloaded it."

Although the intoxicated Airman resisted and struggled to break free, Serna and Stamps were able to overpower him, restrain his movements and separate him from his firearm, preventing him from harming himself or others.

"We just wanted to get the gun to the armory and get that individual to the chaplain," Serna said. "We didn't even think about a medal."

The two Airmen then handcuffed the individual and attempted to calm him down after he started harming himself.

Tech. Sgt. Rashon Taggart, Serna and Stamp's flight sergeant, is proud of the selfless actions his Airmen took to prevent others from potentially being harmed.

"It's really hard to get them to understand how big of a deal it is," Taggart said. "There was a lot of potential for a lot of harm to happen to a lot of different people."

According to the medal citation, Serna and Stamps were upholding the highest core values of the Air Force and showed care and compassion for their fellow wingmen.

"Getting shot was in the back of my mind," Stamps said. "But that wasn't the important thing, the important thing was the safety of all the other people at the party."

Following the confrontation they reported the incident, allowing the chain of command to initiate care for the individual.

"It's guaranteed that other people saw the same thing, but decided to turn their eye to the situation and hope it just goes away," Taggart said. "But hoping something goes away is not always going to happen, you have to make things happen, just like they did."

DTRA Medical Countermeasures Help West African Ebola Crisis

By Cheryl Pellerin
DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON, Dec. 12, 2014 – Since 2003, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency has invested more than $300 million to develop medical countermeasures against hemorrhagic fever viruses, and those efforts are paying off today in potential new ways to fight Ebola virus disease.

DTRA’s mission is to protect the United States and its allies from chemical, nuclear, biological and other weapons of mass destruction, and deadly pathogens fall into the WMD category, DTRA Deputy Director Air Force Maj. Gen. John Horner said during a recent interview with DoD News.

“We plan to be in this business for the long term,” he added, “and need to do biosurveillance and strengthen biosecurity worldwide, helping partner countries build their capacity to prevent, treat and monitor the threat of infectious diseases.”

More than 17,290 cases of Ebola virus disease and at least 6,128 deaths have been reported to date in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the lack of licensed Ebola vaccines and treatments has accelerated efforts, including DTRA’s, to get these medical products into the regulatory approval pipeline.

Ebola Vaccine Candidates

This year, in coordination with DTRA, the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise working group chose three lead candidates –- two vaccines and one treatment –- to go forward in the Food and Drug Administration approval pipeline as part of the U.S. Ebola outbreak response.

The vaccine candidates are recombinant VSV-EBOV, from BioProtection Systems/Newlink Genetics, and ChAd-EBOV from GlaxoSmithKline. DTRA is supporting development of the VSV-EBOV vaccine through a contract with BioProtection Systems/Newlink Genetics. NIAID is supporting the ChAd-EBOV vaccine.

The VSV candidate is based on a recombinant, or genetically engineered, virus from an animal disease called vesicular stomatitis. An Ebola virus protein is engineered into a vesicular stomatitis virus, and the new recombinant virus acts as a vector, or carrier, to deliver the Ebola protein into the human body. Genetic engineering is a healthy way to express proteins like Ebola that prompts the body to produce antibodies to lethal Ebola virus disease without the risk of disease from either virus

The other vaccine is a recombinant chimpanzee adenovirus, or cold virus. In this vaccine, an Ebola virus protein is engineered into a chimpanzee adenovirus to deliver the ChAd-EBOV vaccine into people to produce Ebola antibodies.

Human Testing is Underway

Human testing to evaluate the safety of VSV-EBOV is underway at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, or WRAIR.

Researchers at the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, or NIAID, are conducting an early phase trial to evaluate the VSV-EBOV vaccine for safety and for its ability to generate an immune-system response in healthy adults who receive two injected doses.

At the same time, the WRAIR is testing the VSV-EBOV vaccine as a single dose at its Clinical Trials Center in Silver Spring, Maryland, NIH officials said.

For the ChAd-EBOV vaccine, in early stage clinical trials, again designed to assess vaccine safety and immune response, NIAID will test two versions of ChAd-EBOV.

One is a bivalent, or two-component, version containing genetic material from Ebola Zaire and Ebola Sudan strains. The other is a monovalent, or single-component, version that contains only genetic material from Ebola Zaire, the strain now causing the outbreak in West Africa.

Both vaccines were reviewed by the FDA under an investigational new drug, or IND, application.

Evaluating Vaccine Efficacy

“We should begin to see Phase II and III clinical trials take place in West Africa, probably in the January-February timeframe,” Dr. Ronald K. Hann Jr., director of research and development in DTRA’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department, said.

He explained that these clinical trial phases evaluate the vaccines’ efficacy, or how well they work.

“We spoke to Doctors Without Borders [recently], and they're helping to map out the Phase II-III clinical trial studies that would be taking place in West Africa,” Hann added, “and they're looking at both the [ChAd-EBOV and VSV-EBOV] vaccine candidates to go into those trials.”

Once either vaccine shows protection, according to a DTRA fact sheet, the trial will stop and the vaccine will be distributed in a mass immunization campaign to help end the Ebola epidemic.

A Promising Ebola Treatment

The lead therapeutic treatment candidate that DTRA and the Public Health Emergency Medical Countermeasures Enterprise working group named to move forward into the FDA pipeline is called ZMapp, from Mapp Biopharmaceutical.

But as early as 2007, DTRA, NIAID and the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases, or USAMRIID, were funding efforts and working hard to show that the monoclonal antibody basis for the experimental drug actually would work.

ZMapp is a cocktail of three different monoclonal, or genetically engineered, Ebola virus disease antibodies that bind to Ebola virus proteins in the body and neutralize the virus, decreasing the amount of virus the patient's immune system has to fight.

Dr. Erin Reichert, chief of the Translational Medical Division of the Chemical and Biological Technologies Department in DTRA’s Research and Development Directorate, describes the road to development for ZMapp.

“Along with our colleagues at USAMRIID and NIAID, we had a small investment in looking at whether or not monoclonal antibodies or antibody-based therapeutics in general would be an appropriate therapeutic countermeasure for Ebola,” she said.

Passive Immunotherapy

In the scientific community, as early as 2007, researchers debated the value of this so-called passive immunotherapy, or passive transfer, for treating Ebola.

“We funded researchers at USAMRIID, and NIAD had small investments through small-business grants directly to Mapp Biopharmaceutical to determine once and for all if antibodies could be a viable countermeasure”, Reichert said.

Then in the 2012 timeframe, she added, important publications came out of USAMRIID that changed the way researchers viewed antibodies for filovirus infection. Ebola and Marburg viruses both are filoviruses.

“One of those papers was by [Dr. John M. Dye Jr., now chief in USAMRIID’s Viral Immunology Branch],” Reichert said. “He demonstrated for the first time that antibodies from primates exposed to Ebola virus could be transferred to naive primates to protect them from infection. That opened the door for this as far as a viable countermeasure.”

Putting Dollars Against the Product

Also in 2012, she added, DTRA and NIAID “really started putting some dollars against the product and in a very short period of time we were able to accelerate development to a point where, while it is still a [research and development] product, we have a product that could be useful in people.”

ZMapp was developed through a DTRA contract with Mapp Biopharmaceutical and in collaboration with USAMRIID, Defyrus LLC and the Public Health Agency of Canada, according to a DTRA fact sheet.

The ZMapp three-antibody cocktail was discovered in 2014 but the monoclonal antibody research began in 2007.

BARDA is sponsoring the manufacture of ZMapp for Phase I and II clinical studies, which are expected to start in early 2015 at NIAID. Other clinical studies are scheduled to begin in affected African countries in early 2015. ZMapp has been used under an emergency investigational new drug application in Ebola-infected patients in the United States, Africa and elsewhere, according to a White House fact sheet.

Protecting the Force

“We’ve been working very closely with our interagency partners to develop these vaccines and therapeutics to protect the force against a broad range of filoviruses,” Reichert said.

In response to the West Africa Ebola epidemic, development of vaccines and ZMapp has accelerated to focus specifically on delivering something for Zaire, she added.

“Along with our interagency partners -- HHS as well as JPEO have been really critical –- we’ve been able, in a very short period of time, to push those through the regulatory process to get them to a point where they may have an impact on the current epidemic,” Reichert said.

Thunderbolt bounces back after belly landing

by Staff Sgt. Courtney Richardson
355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

12/11/2014 - DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- On the evening of Sept. 30, an A-10 stationed at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base was coming back to base for a routine landing after completing a standard sortie. Just when everything seemed to be going as planned, disaster struck! The main landing gear failed to extend, putting the pilot in a tough spot.

During an in-flight landing gear malfunction, A-10 pilots have two options. They can either land the aircraft on the wheels that did extend, or they can pull all of the tires up and land on the belly.

The pilot chose to land on the belly. He was forced to keep the A-10 as straight and level as possible while holding enough airspeed to maintain control until it came to a complete stop.

"The pilot made a great decision landing it on its belly," said Staff Sgt. Justin Post, 357th Aircraft Maintenance Unit dedicated crew chief and lead mechanic. "There could have been a lot more damage than what we already had."

According to the 355th Flight Safety Office, it has been about 12 years since D-M has had an incident of this nature.

Although the A-10 is a rugged aircraft, it is capable of landing on its belly without significant damage. However, just to be safe, this particular aircraft was impounded after its emergency landing.

"After the aircraft was placed in a secure area, we began a standard safety inspection to assess the damage and determine the root cause of the incident," said Tech. Sgt. Mark Bapp, 355th Fighter Wing flight safety.

Once that inspection was complete, Airmen from the 357th AMU worked diligently to put the A-10C Thunderbolt II back in the fight.

"We have been working on the aircraft for about 2 months," Post said. "The longest part was when we had to take off all of the bolts from the wings and send them for nondestructive inspections."

When the aircraft landed on its belly, the impact had the potential to create stress fractures in the bolts and wings. Nondestructive inspections, or NDI's, are performed to detect cracks or damage that is unseen by the human eye using any combination of these five methods: fluorescent penetrate, magnetic particle, ultrasound, electrical current and X-ray.

Prior to returning this aircraft to the flight rotation, it had to pass a Functional Check Flight. The flight determines whether an aircraft's airframe, engines, accessories, or equipment is functioning according to established standards.

On Dec. 5, Aircraft #694 was wheels up for the first time in approximately two months.

"We worked together as a team for a long time making sure (this aircraft) is mission capable," Post said. "It was a thrill to see it in the sky."

A big give made a huge reach

by Airman 1st Class Emily A. Kenney
49th Wing Public Affairs

12/12/2014 - HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. -- Two hundred and fifty people from Holloman and the city of Alamogordo volunteered throughout Alamogordo for the Big Give Christmas Edition December 9, 2014.

This marks the third year of the Big Give Christmas Edition event, in which teams comprised of community and Team Holloman members sponsor a family in need and provide them with a Christmas they may not have otherwise had.

"This time of year isn't about Black Friday or the day after Christmas," said Master Sgt. Jesse Davis Sr, 54th Fighter Group programs flight chief. "At least, it shouldn't be. It's about having the means to bless a family and give them a better Christmas."

Davis was one of many members of Team Holloman who participated in the BGCE.

"We gave each team a family to bless, and we gave them five dollars to go buy happiness," said Amanda Gallagher, marketing director at Desert Sun Motors and coordinator of the BGCE. "The idea is that you can buy happiness, as long as you're spending it on someone other than yourself."

Throughout the two hours of the event, the 25 teams bought gifts, performed random acts of kindness and bought happiness with five dollars.

"It is fast. It is furious. It is frantic, and it is fun," said Gallagher.

Giving first responders a free dinner, hospital patients free vending machine drinks and senior citizens free cookies were only a few of the simple acts of kindness performed during the BGCE.

"The whole idea of Big Give is that one person can make a difference," said Gallagher. "People think that they can't change the world, so they don't do anything. A whole lot of little somethings equal a really big something."

After each family was presented with their Christmas gifts, the teams went back to Desert Sun Toyota to regroup and have dinner. During dinner, some families stood up and shared stories of how programs much like the Big Give helped them before and have inspired them to give back.

"I think as military members we should give back to the community," Davis said. "If we have the means to help, we should. People often ask, "Why should I help?" Really what they should be asking is, "Why not?"

The number of volunteers for the BGCE has increased from 30 people to 250 over the past three years.

"Now imagine how  25 families, 25 acts of kindness and the 25 five dollar bills affected at the bare minimum 75 people," Gallagher said. "So if 75 people decide to pay it forward, we are doubling our kindness, which is what we should be doing, especially at Christmas."

In addition to what teams purchased for families, many stores throughout Alamogordo provided additional donations.

"Other businesses heard what we were doing here, and it inspired them to give," said Gallagher. "These were small businesses, large businesses, old people and young people. These were people of all shapes, sizes, color, religious preference and political belief systems. It did not matter. We had one heart. It was set to give, and that's what we did."

Air Force Fitness Management System slated for upgrade

by Debbie Gildea
Air Force Personnel Center Public Affairs

12/12/2014 - JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas  -- Active-duty, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard officers and enlisted members who want to maintain copies of their pre-July 2010 fitness records need to access the Air Force Fitness Management System (AFFMS) and save or print their records by Dec. 30, Air Force Personnel Center officials said Dec. 9.

AFFMS will be offline from Dec. 31 - Jan. 11 to enable AFPC teams to transition content to the improved Air Force Fitness Management System II, said 1st Lt. Nathan Strickland, the AFPC Special Programs branch chief. When the new system comes back online, it will not include fitness information older than July 2010.

The new system - AFFMS II - will improve accessibility and fitness program managers' ability to manage fitness program records. In addition, it will feature more stringent security controls to protect members' information from unauthorized changes or updates.

"This system will provide Total Force Airmen with a more up-to-date, user-friendly fitness management system that will better support the overall Air Force Fitness program," Strickland said. "Before the system goes down, we want to make sure that Airmen are aware of the pending change and have time to go into the system to save their older records."

While there is no requirement for Airmen to maintain fitness records, Strickland advises Airmen who would like to maintain a copy of their fitness history prior to July 2010 to go to the current AFFMS site by Dec. 30 and download or print their pre-July 2010 information. Records can be printed or saved as PDFs, he said.

"In the interim, base fitness assessment centers and unit fitness program managers will maintain hard copies of fitness score sheets for Airmen who test while the system is down and will update those records once AFFMS II is up and running," Strickland said.

To save copies of pre-July 2010 records, go to the Air Force Portal, hover the curser over the "Life & Fitness" menu and select "AF Fitness Management System" from the drop down menu. For more information about the fitness management system and other personnel issues, go to myPers.

Face of Defense: Fourth-generation Balloon Pilot Describes Hobby

By Bob Fehringer
U.S. Transportation Command

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill., Dec. 12, 2014 – What may appear, from a distance, to be a dragon belching the flame of a hundred blow torches is really an Air Force officer preparing for flight -- but not in a way you may expect.

Maj. Kenny Weiner is a transportation planner at U.S. Transportation Command and a C-17 instructor pilot in his day job, but on weekends and much of the other time he’s not at work, you can find him planning the next hot-air balloon flight.

“I am a fourth-generation balloon pilot -- note I did not say ‘hot-air’ balloon pilot,” Weiner said. “My great-grandfather flew gas balloons for Goodyear, helping to train future Navy blimp pilots. My mother and grandfather started flying hot-air balloons in Akron, Ohio, in 1982 when I was 4 or 5 years old. So I grew up around balloons.”

A Hobby Becomes a Family Business

What started as a hobby quickly became a family business when Weiner’s mother opened a balloon-ride operation in Medina, Ohio. Weiner said his father, a doctor, never was involved with ballooning.

“In 1993, my family purchased our first special-shape balloon,” Weiner said. “It was a snowman, designed after one of the four images on our balloon called Seasons. That balloon was purple with a snowman, daisy, pumpkin and sunshine on it. We went on to build one shape for each season: Mr. Winter, Ms. Autumn, Sunny Boy and Miss Daisy.

“We spent our summers traveling to various balloon events as the Seasons Hot Air Balloon Team,” Weiner continued. “We were lucky to have taken the balloons to some amazing places, including the Loire Valley in France, Germany, New Zealand, flights over the Horseshoe Falls in Niagara. We also had a ballooning business in Tampa, Florida, and we flew the Disney balloons.”

Weiner joined the Air Force in 2001, but that didn’t end his hobby. It was just transformed a bit.

“I stopped flying commercially and stopped flying special shapes,” Weiner said. “Since then, I continue to fly balloons as a hobby and family sport. My balloon is called Independence and is representative of the American flag. It is 90,000 cubic feet, which is average for balloons.”

Weiner said his two children are now part of the sport. “I hope they decide to become pilots,” he added. “My 5-year-old son, Evan, is already convinced he is my copilot.” His wife, Hanna, also is involved, and often acts as his crew chief.

Logistics of a Balloon Flight

A typical flight involves a bit more than inflating the balloon and taking off, Weiner said.

“When I decide to fly, I have to load the balloon into the bed of my pickup truck,” he explained. “My truck has a lift gate on the back, so the 500-pound basket and 250-pound [balloon] are easily loaded. I also have some [miscellaneous] equipment, [such as] a cooler with water and champagne.”

A flight also requires a chase crew, Weiner said, generally friends or family who help to set up and take down the balloon and chase it while he flies.

Weiner said the takeoff location is chosen based on wind direction. Because a balloon can’t be steered, planning requires awareness of the downwind direction and avoiding controlled airspace and restricted areas, he said.

“In the Midwest, we only fly early morning and late afternoon, when the winds are the lightest,” Weiner said. “I often take off from my neighborhood in O'Fallon [Illinois]. After inflating the balloon, I have my passengers -- two or three people -- climb in the basket, give a safety briefing, heat the balloon to equilibrium, do a last-minute safety check and, after a few more burns, we lift off.”

Suitable Landing Sites

The balloon moves with the wind, Weiner continued, adding that using different winds at different altitudes can serve to “steer” it. “After 30 to 45 minutes, I start looking for suitable landing sites,” he said. “In light winds, a balloon can be landed just about anywhere. An ideal spot is a clean, grassy field.”

Once a suitable landing site is located, gravity takes over.

“Most balloon landings are very gentle and require no help from ground crew,” Weiner said. “Occasionally in higher winds or in tight spots, the ground crew can help by catching a drop-line or catching the basket to add weight.

“Once down,” Weiner continued, “we deflate the balloon and let the wind push the balloon over with help from a line attached to the top of the balloon called the crown line. Pack-up takes 10 to 15 minutes.”

Out-of-pocket costs are between $100 and $200 per flight, Weiner said, but that doesn’t take into account the amortized costs, such as the cost of the balloon, balloon insurance, a suitable chase vehicle and the vehicle’s insurance.

A new complete balloon system costs $30,000 to $40,000, Weiner said. “Most people buy a used system for $10,000 or less for training,” he added. Baskets often are carried over to a new balloon envelope, saving $10,000 to $15,000, he added, and old balloons can be rebuilt with new fabric in worn-out areas to extend their life.

Many Interesting Experiences

Weiner said he has had many interesting experiences with passengers, including multiple marriage proposals. And in Europe, he said, people often run outside naked to wave. But he never has had a frightful flight.

“I have never been scared in a balloon,” he said. “And I would add people that are afraid of heights enjoy balloon flights more than anyone else. They are often repeat passengers. There is something distinctive and ‘unscary’ about a balloon flight. It is as if you stand on a platform and watch the Earth rotate beneath you.”