The early morning sun broke the horizon and began to color the acres of teams that dotted the country side. Here and there were banners marking the turf where the college school aviation teams had set up camp the night before. This weekend was the southwest region finals to see who could send a helium balloon the highest. Each balloon was equipped with a barometer, Gopro camera and other scientific packages that would record the assent, temperature, wind speed and other interesting tidbits that only aviation nerds found interesting. Each of the 11 teams had an equal shot of claiming the prize for ‘High Flyer’. By the time the sun traversed the sky and would take the color with it would the trophy be awarded.

at 8:00am at the blare of an air horn eleven silver helium envelopes rose into the sky. Each one trailing a battery powered instrument package, sending information back to the command bunker. The National Science Foundation was using a big white tent where teams of judges were watching computer screens and shouting out elevation each 1000 feet up the balloons were traveling. By 8:20 the balloons were beyond the reach of any pair of eyes. The only evidence of their existence was on the computer screens with their counters marking each balloons journey.

At 9 o’clock the FAA got the first aerial hazard alert from a private jet. It seemed that someone at the science foundation forgot to warn the FAA that 11 helium balloons were drifting up into commercial air corridors. To make matters worse the jet stream was pushing the balloons over Basalt Flats Marine base. 9:15 two F-35’s were ordered to clear that space of all airborne hazards.

Captain Raymond “Rainman” Mark and his wing man Bob “Rooftop” Drumand were skyrocketing beyond 30,000 feet with ‘weapons free’ clearance to down anything that didn’t have wings.  Quickly coming into view were 3 balloons that had gotten tangled on their way up. The helium balloons were undulating and dancing in the strong jet stream turbulence. The looked almost alive and there was only one way to describe what they saw.

“Shoot the Jellyfish” he heard his wing man say into his ear piece. Mark lined up the shot, flipped the safety guard out of the way and placed his finger on the trigger. It’s then he remembered where his 16-year-old daughter was. She was down there somewhere, peering over the head of some Science foundation guy hoping beyond hope that her teams balloon was still climbing.  Mark pulled his finger away from the trigger and snapped down the safety cover. There were more important matters to attend to than flying jellyfish.

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