Gretta has a saying from her days as a skydiver ‘deceased was wearing borrowed gear’. Too many skydivers would borrow their mates parachute and having never used it before, or made themselves familiar with it, jump out of a plane and attempt to work it out on the way down. Needless to say it didn’t always work out well. The lesson to be learned from the simple statement which summarized many a skydiving accident, is always check the gear you borrow before you use it.
Given that our first flight over Canberra was due to be in the chariot which we were borrowing, giving it the once over in daylight would probably have been a good idea. This became apparent in the darkness of the predawn when the first thing that happened as we pulled the cover off it was smell propane. Further investigation revealed that the tap on the tank had worked open in transit and half a tank of gas had slowly bled out over a couple of days. It was annoying for the fact we had to drop everything to go and refuel.
What was annoying, was having arrived at the servo we discovered the fuel hose we had didn’t have the appropriate connections for the LPG pump. Out of options we headed back to the launch field where we abandoned the chariot and its trailer and hitched up with the Quit balloon instead. By the time we had done all this a fog bank had rolled in and the mornings flight was cancelled.
Unlike Saturday, Sunday’s flight went ahead. Having learned from the day before we’d made sure we had everything to hand and in working order. Our plan was simple enough, stay low and don’t get stuck over the lake. The chariot’s envelope is many years old and getting a bit porous. A tank of fuel just doesn’t last like it used to, especially with Gretta going up and down like a yoyo. That’s not something you want to learn over water.
While I was making sure I knew where my nearest exit was, just in case we had a forced landing on water, Gretta was doing some of that technical flying stuff. Both of us were watching the fuel gauge drop at an alarming rate until Gretta found a band of air that gave us the direction we needed and a good bit of speed. For the first time in the flight we relaxed and enjoyed the spectacle of dozens of balloons following in our wake.
We weren’t chilling out for too long because Gretta had to set up for landing. In a chariot this means coming in sideways before turning at the last moment to touch down backwards. Switching rapidly between burners and three different control lines, while looking over her shoulder, Gretta lined us up for a text book landing.
We cracked a bottle of champagne to celebrate having survived our sojourn in borrowed gear; an exercise which didn’t require any pre-flight familiarization.