Uruguaiana is a city located on the western edge of Rio Grande do Sul state in southern Brasil close to the border with Argentina and Uruguay. The city have a strategic location in the context of the southamerican commercial market (MERCOSUR) so it counts with a consolidated system of communications with highways linking with other cities in the state, a international bridge crossing the Uruguay river, railways and an airport. On regard the late, it was inaugurated in 1945, but soon became necessary to expand it and move it to another location. Thus in 1951 started the construction of a new air station with improved capabilities.
The old airport was the place that served in 1966 as launch base for a balloon scientific mission carried out by american scientists. That year, the neighborg city of Alegrete was selected to perform a series of balloon launches, during the total sun eclipse of November 12. The operation was under the coordination of the US National Science Foundation, while the NCAR Scientific Balloon Facility managed the operations and provided the necessary ballooning support. The purpose of the experiments onboard the balloons was to measure the variations in atmospheric ozone resulting from changes in photo-chemical processes occurring during the eclipse.
During the first days of November the NCAR personel established the base station at Alegrete, and the previous day of the eclipse managed to launch a first balloon devoted to obtain background measurements of the atmospheric ozone content. As final preparations for the eclipse flight started the wind data forecast showed the need to quickly find another launch site located more to the west to allow the predicted flight path of the balloon to fall directly in the path of the eclipse's umbra, so vehicles and personnel were quickly deployed to the Uruguaiana airport located 130 km from Alegrete to launch the balloon there. The launch was made at 8:07 local time but due to strong surface winds (gusting to 25 knots) the balloon was pulled from the arms of the launch crew before proper removal of the restraining manual launch device, which provoked an early termination two hours later, just in the moment of the eclipse start. That would be the last time a balloon was launched at Uruguaiana: the same day all vehicles and personnel returned to Alegrete, and tried to launch two more balloons there with the same fate as both failed approximatelly two hours after released. After that the campaign was terminated.
Back to the airport history we may say that in 1968 the expanded passenger terminal at the new airport was inaugurated, while the old airstrip and the facilities there were occupied since by the local aeroclub. Nowadays the airport -managed by INFRAERO- is denominated Rubem Berta airport, and is one of the largest ones in the interior of the state.
I wish to express my sincere gratitude to Dr. Arlin Krueger principal investigator of the Eclipse balloon project who kindly provided first hand accounts of the operation
Table of balloons launched from Uruguaiana Airport, Rio Grande do Sul