Erie High School Floats to New Heights

Grayson Wolff shares his perspective as an Aerospace Student who was on the team that helped design and launch EHS's first weather balloon.


Grayson Wolff

Erie Aerospace students fill the weather balloon with helium just prior to its maiden flight.

Grayson Wolff, Editor-in-Chief

The weather balloon launched by Erie High’s own Aerospace class on May 4th was a story of triumph, that turned into failure, and then thankfully ended in triumph.

The story starts back in September 2017 when newly betided Aerospace teacher Lindsay Fox came up with the idea for the class to create and launch a weather balloon. Fox got the idea from another teacher that she met at the PLTW training session she attended over the summer to learn the curriculum.

The next step after the idea was to get the funding. Students wrote letters, and Fox wrote a great proposal to possibly receive a grant for the project. Unfortunately, the Aerospace class did not get that grant. Fox did not want to give up, so she went to Matt Buchler, the principal of Erie High School. Luckily, Buchler was able to secure the funding for the project, and we were good to go to get started working.

Dividing and conquering were next. Each student was assigned a different task in the process. From ordering the parts to designing the project, and then to handling the media aspects, each student could use their strengths together to maximize performance.

The main components consisted of a balloon, parachute, computer for data tracking, and a GoPro to capture the footage. All of this is pretty standard for a weather balloon.

The next step was the design of the payload. While most standard weather balloons store their components in a styrofoam cooler, the Aerospace students in the design group wanted to take it to the next level. Using the Engineering Design process, they came up with the payload design, that looked beautiful and got the job done.

Work carried on while the days counted down until the launch. The weather balloon had to be finalized, and coordination with the FAA had to be carried out. The projections for the landing site went from a broad prediction of landing in Nebraska to narrowing in on Watkins, Colorado.

Because of a shipping delay of our navigation unit, the device was not received until two days before the launch. This lead to not being able to test the unit thoroughly, which causes issues later on.

Launch day came, and even with reservations that we would not be able to track the balloon, the show went on. A large crowd gave up their lunch to gather and see Erie’s very first weather balloon launch. With just eight minutes to spare before teachers and students had to be in their next class, the balloon was released and went on its way.

Grayson Wolff
A large group of students and teachers gathered to watch the weather balloon launch

Next, a group of ten students in four vehicles left Erie High School to start making their way to Watkins, the projected landing site. With a flight time of over two hours, they had time to make stops for lunch until meeting up at Front Range Airport, which is just south of the projected landing site. After waiting well past the projected landing time to see if a GPS signal is retrieved, with no updates, the students set out on their own quest to take matters into their own hands.

The students took to muddy roads after previous days storm and spent the next three hours looking. Eventually, a truck sunk and got stuck in the mud on one of these roads. Teamwork proved to be a power of the Aerospace students because they were not short of options when getting the truck out. One student, Alec Fling, set out and got a group of farmers on their way with a truck and tractor to pull the truck out. In between those transit times, another car in the group showed up and we ended up pulling the truck out with an SUV. Nonetheless, it was an unbelievable sight of teamwork on all sides.

Grayson Wolff
A weather balloon chasers truck got stuck in the mud while searching through fields for the missing in action balloon.

After that incident, the team made the decision to call it a day and head back home. It was disappointing, but the team was proud of the strides they made for the program and had some good stories to share.

From then it seemed like the weather balloon was gone for good. But over a week after, Fox got a voicemail on her phone. It was from a farmer located in Limon, Colorado named Eric. Before the balloons launch, a sticker was attached to the balloon with Fox’s phone number, as our last resort. It had worked, and so on the evening of May 14th, Fox made the drive to Limon, over an hour and a half each way, to retrieve the balloon.

Russell Fox
Mrs. Lindsay Fox and her son Colton find the weather balloon in a field located in Limon, Colorado.

The next day, Fox surprised all the students in the class with the news. They immediately ripped it open to see the results. They were not disappointed, and the saga of the weather balloon had made its final chapter.

Overall, it was a learning experience for everyone, and the return of the weather balloon just assured that this certainly will not be the last time Erie High School students launch one.

Kelsey Rassmussen
Aerospace students pose next to a poster that they made thanking Eric for helping them find the balloon.