Central Park -- Overflite's Secret Home Base - overflite

Between 1996 and 1999 we must have launched over 100 balloons.  Plus all the other launches before and in different places.  Mostly from the triangle-shaped grassy area next to Dead Road.  Which is around 69th St.  Dead Road runs alongside the East side of Sheep's Meadow (the big field you see in the center) and to the West of the Bandshell.  It has no outlets, only paths.  Hence its name.   We mostly flew after sunset, after things quieted down.  Had some wonderful flights. 

When the winds were light, the balloons would go almost straight up, then just stand there, high in the sky, like pillars of fire.  When they flew towards the skyscrapers we could see their reflections in the glass.  When the clouds were low, the balloons would fly right through them, then reappear.  When the balloons crossed the East River or Hudson River they would get jostled by the change in wind conditions.  When we flew at sunset the balloons got very red and reflective from the glow.  But mostly we flew after dark.  The balloons were also featured in a New York Times article about things that happen in Central Park after dark.  Including a pic of a launch.

The most common direction for the balloons was up the NE Corridor to Hells Gate and the Tri-Boro Bridge and a little beyond, ie. The Bronx (!).  Then North to Harlem or East to Roosevelt Island and Queens.  Then NNW to the George Washington Bridge.  Then due West over the West Side.  Then either SW or SE or due South.  These were the most uncommon.  But also among the most interesting.  Since we could see reflections of the balloons in the windows of the skyscrapers.


One balloon "threaded the needle" between the two spires of the San Remo (lower left on pic).  Central Park West, on the full block between 74th and 75th Street.  People commonly think of it as the Ghostbusters Building.  The balloon crossed Central Park West at around 73rd Street.  Then came back East through the spires.  Then it went North up Central Park West to Harlem.  Or as said, the balloon "took the A-train"

Another balloon made a big triangle in the sky, then flew almost right overhead.  This had to do with light winds moving in different directions at different altitudes.  First it went West.  Then it sent NE.  Then it came South back to us.

Only recall one balloon that flew perfectly straight up for almost its complete flight.  This was on a very cold possibly below-zero night on the ice on the Boat Pond (lower right of pic).  It was real late and some homeless guy came out of the woods and onto the ice to watch the flight.  It was also so cold and so late that the sky and stars seemed very clear too.

-- The Helicopter Corridor Balloon - Another balloon flew South over Rockefeller Center during some big-wig wing-ding when there were a bunch of helicopters swarming around.  Papparazi in the sky.  They just got out of the way and jockeyed to do whatever they were doing.  Looked like a dogfight over Mid-Town.  With the balloon flying right between their lines.

-- The Hells-Gate Balloon.  Real eye-opener.  This was in Carl Schultz Park, the park along East River south of Gracie Mansion.  Built over FDR Drive.  Which is SSW of Hells Gate.  Which is the convergence of two separate tidal systems, ie. the East River estuary and  Long Island Sound.  The waters are turbulent and dangerous.  Hence the name.  Anyway... the balloon managed to climb right through Hells Gate and was approaching The Bronx.  It then did a free-fall.  Then a Lazarus.  Recovering most of its previous altitude before burning out.  Anyway, be aware about convergences between water and land.  Also did a lot of convergence balloons.  Described as "The Whirlwind."  Most of the time the balloons are successful in these conditions.  Or else they blow out.

-- Police escort out of Manhattan balloon -- This was when a police helicopter was patrolling Central Park during the early evening hours.  The helicopter would go around the perimeter of the park.  On the one launch the balloon was travelling on an ESE trajectory towards the 59th St Queensboro Bridge while the helicopter was coming around on its pattern.  So the helicopter broke off from its pattern and  followed the balloon over the bridge.  The 59th Street Bridge is shown in the upper left of the pic.

Only launched a few self-destruct burn-up-tape balloons.  These are made by taping long strips of scotch tape to the balloon bag.  Idea being for the scotch tape to burn up the balloon bag into five or six separate pieces.  Including secondary strips.  Entire concept is scary, re tree-crashes or destructive-failure, so only did a few.  Most of the self-destruct balloons flew away too far to figure out what they did at the end besides just burn out.  But the one balloon only flew a quarter-mile or so to the north and hovered at roughly a 45 degree angle.  When the scotch tape self-destruct tape caught fire the bag caught on fire and split apart and proceeded to rain down firey molten plastic.  So the dying balloon sort of looked like a lighted waterfall for maybe 20 seconds or so.  It looked real cool.

-- The Richard Nixon tribute launch - 1994 -  This was a triple launch from the pedestrian walkway bridge on the FDR Drive at 78th Street.  On the night that Richard Nixon died at New York Presbyterian at 68th Street, between York Ave and FDR Drive.  Or 10 blocks north of the 59th Street Bridge.  We launched three balloons around midnight from the stairway to the river.  One blew out and fell into the water.  But the other two balloons flew South, down the East River and past Richard Nixon's window.  After that we went to the nearest Irish Bar to the hospital and played "Young Americans" by David Bowie:  "Do you remember President Nixon?  Do you remember the bills he had to pay?  Or even yesterday?..."

-- The Princess Di & Mother Theresa tribute launch - 1997 - This was a triple launch from the Dead Road triangle.  We lighted and launched in fairly close sequence.  First, then second, then third.  All within a minute or so.  With fairly close order launch.  As the balloons reached transition-altitude, which is usually around 50 feet high or so, a woman in the crowd shouted:  "God bless you Mother Theresa !  God bless you Princess Di !..."  The balloons then travelled NNE on a parallel intersect with Central Park West on a path to the George Washington Bridge.

Common phraseology at lighting, release and launch phase incuded:  "Launch is go" - "We are go for launch." - "We have launch." - "Balloon is go" - "Balloon is go to launch." - "We have balloon."

-- The DC balloons - 1998 - 2+4 balloons - Original  impeachment eve. 12/16/98.  Mall was quiet around 9pm.  Launched two balloons with short delay from mall at 13th Street.  Balloons flew NNW a few hundred yards east of the presidential mansion.  Guards had good view.  At around a thousand feet altitude.  Quite overhead.  Then did quadruple launch south of the capitol dome by the power plant.  One blew out.  Rest went north, slightly east of dome.  Quite overhead.  Horse and buggy stopped to watch launch.  Hoof sounds slowly came to a stop.  Had prior catch & release at sunset by the reflecting pool.  Said I had constitutional right to protest the impeachment of the president.  Guards called in then let me go.  Walked right between their lines.  With my balloons intact.  Turns out the guards were busy - pre-occupied with Clinton's missiles.  Then post beer w bud launched the 2+4 balloons.  No problem. The balloon count corresponded to the articles of impeachment several days later.  Four proposed.  Two delivered to the doorstep.

-- The Hale-Bobb Balloon Series - 1997 - Night after night for a long time Hale-Bobb and Venus converged almost due West over the West Side of Manhattan.  In 1997.  Venus from the left.  Hale-Bobb from the right.  Hale-Bobb had a long tail, trailing to the North, was incredibly bright and was completely awesome.  Hard not to imagine it as a messenger.  Meanwhile we launched numbers of balloons.  Which travelled in various directions.  Then one night the balloon went due West and converged almost perfectly with Hale-Bobb and Venus.  It reminded me of an old Chinese saying:  "God does not speak."  There is also an old children's song or poem in "Songs for Parents" by John Farrer (1921) - Guttenberg Book -

If I were a little fire balloon
I'd float aloft to Mars,
I'd pay a call on Venus
And chatter with the stars,
And just as I'd be fluttering across the yellow moon,
The angels would come singing a solemn Sunday tune.
They'd beckon to me gravely,
They'd tell me I could stay,
They'd show me all the jewels
That pave the milky way.
They'd promise me a golden crown
And silver robes like eider-down,
They'd give me harps with shiny strings
And wonderfully fluffy wings;
BUT--I would tell them plainly
I didn't want to die--
Till all the angel cooks had learned
How Sally makes mince pie!