A weather balloon that Kilough Elementary fourth-graders launched earlier this month has been successfully recovered and brought back to Dawson County, thanks to a school resource officer going above and beyond the call of duty.
According to Kilough Elementary Teacher Amy Tankersley, who spearheaded the project and launched the weather balloon on April 16, the balloon ended up not far away from where she and her class had originally predicted it would land.
“So we did a predictor online where you type in all the info, and it actually landed eight miles away from where we predicted,” Tankersley said. “It landed in McCormick County, South Carolina.”
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The balloon carried three GoPro cameras and a GPS tracker, allowing Tankersley and her students to track its flight throughout the day after launching it on Friday, April 16. After launch, the apparatus rose as high as it could until the atmosphere became too thin, popping the balloon. An attached parachute gently carried the payload back to the earth.
Tankersley said that during its flight, the balloon reached as high as 30,000 feet.
“There was an onboard flight computer that was supposed to tell us the altitude and it looked like it was working when it took off but when we got it back there was nothing on the memory card,” Tankersley said. “But since our predictor was so accurate on where it would land that said it would reach around 27,000 feet, and I looked it up based on the video and it said that when you see black that means it’s reached the stratosphere, so we approximated that it was close to 30,000 feet altitude.”
Following the launch, Tankersley and her husband drove to the spot in South Carolina where the tracker showed the balloon had landed.
“My husband and I drove out there Friday night which was really cool; I made footage of us crossing the Savannah River and stuff just cause the kids would think it was cool,” Tankersley said. “We got there and it was way up in a tree, like super high in the tree.”
According to Tankersley, that’s where Kilough’s Student Resource Officer Grizzle came in.
“Officer Grizzle got permission from the Sheriff’s Office … and he went out there on Tuesday to get it,” Tankersley said. “It was almost like a Dawson Forest kind of area so he had to walk about half a mile from where you park, you have to park at this gate so he carried all this stuff in, all the way to the tree.”
Grizzle drove to South Carolina with a large set of tools, determined to recover the balloon and its apparatus.
"I loaded the bed of my truck — I had a bow and arrow, a slingshot, a climbing deer stand, a pole saw and tree climbing equipment,” Grizzle said. “I just said ‘I’m gonna get this thing back, one way or another I’m getting it back.’”
Grizzle climbed the tree with the deer stand and a pole saw and, after much reaching and stretching, managed to get the apparatus down. He drove it back to Dawsonville, where Tankersley and her class were able to pull the footage of the balloon’s flight to watch and analyze.
Anistyn Krause, the fourth-grader in Tankersley’s class who originally reached out to the Dawson County News about the balloon launch, said that she and her classmates loved seeing the footage from the cameras when the project was over.
“It was really interesting to see the footage,” Krause said. “Seeing the footage made me say ‘wow, we actually did that perfectly’ and wonder how it could even get way up there.”
Krause said that she learned a lot about weather balloons and weather patterns throughout the duration of the project, but that her favorite part was helping prepare the balloon to launch.
“I learned a lot, but my favorite was weighing all the stuff to make sure the balloon had enough helium and lift to carry it,” Krause said.
Tankersley said that overall the project went just as well as she and her class had hoped and that she hopes to repeat the weather balloon project with future classes.
“I was nervous the whole time that something would go wrong but it all worked out, the cameras were good and the kids loved it,” Tankersley said. “And now that Officer Grizzle got all this stuff back for us, we have everything we can reuse next year — all we’ll have to do is buy another balloon and rent helium.”