MOBY DICK was the nickname of an extensive study of the high altitude wind currents performed at staggered altitudes between 50.000 and 100.000 feet by the Air Force over the United States in the first half of the 50's decade.
The program made use of balloons of different sizes manufactured mainly by General Mills Inc. and Winzen Research Inc. under contract with Air Force. The gondola and the payload was developed by Tufts University. The gondola was a metal box measuring 22 x 19 x 22 inches with internal walls thermally insulated by alternating layers of styrofoam, and aluminum foil, until reaching a thickness of 3 inches. The payload was composed by a small transmitter that broadcasted a direction-finding signal, balloon identification number, altitude and amount of ballast used in a 30 seconds on / 90 seconds off cycle. The balloon's direction was plotted by ground direction-finding stations, thus allowing to establish the speed of the wind currents carrying the balloons. To allow the balloons to maintain a constant altitude an automatic ballast system was developed. The ballast hooper was mounted outside the gondola and contained fine steel shot coupled to a magnetic valve that released the ballast when an aneroid switch detected a drop in altitude. Additionally a redundant system of timers and aneroids assured that a runaway balloon could not slip into commercial air traffic routes.
Launches were performed from several sites in the United States depending of the season's direction of the wind. In all, near 1000 balloons were flown during the program, with many of them reaching places as far as Norway, England or the north coasts of Africa.
The systems developed for Moby Dick like the ballast container or launch techniques used, represented a great advance for scientific ballooning at the time. Althought the program ended in June 1954, during the operational phase and even after, it served as a cover-up for a much more secret program codenamed "Genetrix" which in early 1956 sent hundreds of balloons transporting cameras over the Soviet Union and China.
Balloon launched on: 5/13/1954 at 16:00
Launch site: Vernalis Naval Auxiliary Air Station, California, US
Balloon launched by:
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Zero Pressure Balloon
Flight identification number: V181
End of flight (L for landing time, W for last contact, otherwise termination time): 5/13/1954 at ~ 23:00
Balloon flight duration (F: time at float only, otherwise total flight time in d:days / h:hours or m:minutes - ): 7 h
Landing site: Payload lost. Last known position of the balloon in flight was 37.5º N - 116.1º W
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