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Hi-Ball memories

I was reading the Spring 2003 issue of RIT-The University Magazine and decided it was a keeper. When I got to the last page “From the Archives – Operation Hi-Ball,” my thought was “yes!” I immediately started digging and found the “official” history of the project.

Thanks to G. Wayne Hass ’64, Hi-Ball secretary-treasurer, we have a written record of the beginnings and the launching. It was officially organized on Feb. 9, 1962, and flew on May 18, 1962. The records don’t mention it, but the capsule/balloon, Z-2, was named, a bit tongue-in-cheek, after Professor Richard Zakia.

As I recall we launched a little late and we got into trouble almost immediately. The “launch pad” was on South Washington Street and Broad Street. The wind blew the balloon southward and the tether line got caught on the iron gingerbread on the ridge of the church on Spring Street and South Plymouth Avenue. FAA rules required a means of “emptying” the balloon if it got away. To this end, Dick Norman designed some charges attached to a barometer so they would detonate at some prescribed altitude and let the helium escape. The charges did go off when the fire department attempted to unhook the line from the top of the church, but it didn’t empty. Back to the drawing boards.

That was not the only bug in the system. After the fire department retrieved the capsule we unloaded the camera in a darkroom and discovered the film had not advanced. No pictures! After that I never had problems with film advancing in any camera I used.

As I recall it was a real media event. All the local TV stations had their crews on site, and of course the Rochester Fire Department rescue of the Z-2 from the church made the 6 p.m. news. There is a 16mm silent motion picture of Hi-Ball that was screened at The Little theater for our 25th Reunion in 1989.

The following is a list of the names that appear on the documentation of Hi-Ball (full names were not listed for everyone): Fred Able, Donald Adams, John Balser, Jack Blair, ? Brodsky, George Cochran, William Darrow, Peter Engeldrum, Raymond Eynard, Dean File, Howard Finkelstein, Michael Geissinger, G. Wayne Hass, ? Hewes, Jerry Hughes, Terry James, Al Jorgensen, William Kinney, Edward Kob, James Langone, Harry Parsonage, George Pittman, Hugh Pitts, John Polger, Bryan Sammartino, Charles Scavron, Kenneth Shiffbauer, Ronald Sokolowsky, Norman Stern, William Townes, Arthur Walsh, Don Wells, Scott Wilson, William Wing, and Russell Zimmerman.

As I reflect on Operation Hi-Ball, it occurs to me that it would be extremely difficult to pull it off today. It’s just hard to imagine that it was 41 years ago!

Peter G. Engeldrum ’64, ’76
Winchester, Mass.