Lawn-chair pilot sets Saturday liftoff

Battle Ground man hopes to float across Cascade Range

By Tom Vogt, Columbian science, military & history reporter

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BATTLE GROUND — Joe Barbera is getting ready to "Imagine" the world from more than two miles above the ground.

"Imagine" is the name Barbera has chosen for a lawn-chair/helium-balloon aircraft that he plans to launch at 4:15 a.m. Saturday from his home north of Battle Ground.

Barbera originally had planned on taking off this morning, but delayed his plans for a day because of additional work to be done on the craft. That's OK, because there is a better weather outlook for Saturday, he said.

Saturday's launch still depends on the weather, Barbera said. He will make that call today, around 6 p.m., and will post the update on the project's Facebook page.

It doesn't look like Saturday's weather conditions are primed for a long-distance trip, Barbera said.

"The winds are not that fast. But if it lasts for 10 hours at 10 knots, that's 100 (nautical) miles. I do want to get across the Cascades," Barbera said.

Team members were working on several different elements Thursday afternoon: rigging lines for the 50 or so weather balloons that will provide the lift, building a lightweight wooden deck, and even tweaking the lawn chair.

The team launched a much smaller unmanned balloon cluster for a June 9 test flight that made it into Skamania County.

They learned several things from that flight, Barbera said. Those balloons popped prematurely, so the team will use more balloons for his flight -- pumping in less helium so they'll last longer.

An onboard camera also captured images that gave Barbera a bird's-eye look from 13,000 feet.

"I'd never spent much time visualizing that," Barbera said. "But (the photos) made it look real. That was an eye-opener."