CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - As the sun sets Monday night, Susan Stamats and her crew watch the skies from the McBride airstrip, just north of Cedar Rapids. Skies they had expected to be rain-free.
“There’s no rain in the forecast, no rain for Waterloo, Marshalltown, or Des Moines or any of those areas,” said Stamats, showing the radar screen on her phone, “but there’s rain by Marshalltown and Des Moines.”
Stamats has flown balloons for nearly 3 decades, but over just the last few years, she’s noticed the weather become more unpredictable. That’s a problem for someone who charters paid flights.
“That’s one of the frustrations. Everything looks great, then you get out to the launch field, and it all falls apart,” Stamats explained.
As we waited for radar screens to clear, Stamats recalled a flight only a few days before that ended with a backyard landing. She said it wasn’t an emergency; the wind simply died mid-flight.
“One of the things you don’t want to do is get caught over huge power lines and those types of things, so you land if you can, if you can get down and find a spot. That backyard looked like it was a good spot to land in,” Stamats said.
After waiting a bit, Stamats decided it was time to find a different launch site. As bad luck would have it, there was no wind at Bowman Woods Elementary, either, but she decided to fire up her competition balloon, Alley Cat, just for fun. Another night of waiting on the ground for pilots like Kevin Kamp, except for a short tethered flight.
“Every flight is unpredictable to a certain degree, and this year we’ve had a lot fewer opportunities to fly than what is typical,” Kamp told us.
That’s part of the sport Kamp has learned to accept.
“You come out and wait. You see what happens, because if you’re not here and ready to go, you won’t fly.”