Iowa High Altitude Balloon Launch #4

The iHAB-4 launch last Saturday was oddly enough close enough to my QTH (51 miles away– in Oxford, IA just east of Iowa City, IA) to justify taking the kids to.  It also happened to be sponsored by the Marion Home School Assistance program (Marion, IA) that my children happened to be open enrolled in. Yes, on top of everything else (having four, young, non-genetically related South Korean adoptees) we homeschool our children.

This was a great way of trying to interest kids in Amateur Radio. I’ve been taking my oldest two boys (9 and 10) to a Technician Class with the hopes that eventually between that class and me teaching them the material that at least one of them would get a Technician license. Yes, they are a little young, but I think they could do it. (After all, they are homeschooled.)   Unfortunately, they have been very antsy.. I think I will get at least one to pass.. but maybe that will take months more.. maybe years more?

They like hamfests… but they LOVED this launch…

It is difficult to keep kids interested in DXing, Contesting, building antennas, etc. But launching a balloon is a different story.

This should remind us all that Amateur Radio is a very diverse hobby with many aspects. Marshall Dias, W0OTM of Ottumwa, IA I believe became a ham to fly the types of communications payloads that he does fly on the iHAB missions.

You can see what this leads to:

iHAB communitcations trailer

Serious hardware for the balloon experiments

And, you can see a “Serious ham’s” equipment inside of the trailer:

Inside of the iHAB Communications Trailer

Of course, the payload boxes are even more interesting than the trailer.  Again, this shows how serious even this unusual aspect of the hobby can be technically!

iHAB-4 Top Payload

iHAB-4 Top most payload - APRS 2m Beacon and 20m CW Beacon

As you can tell, Marshall W0OTM is an extremely positive guy and one could genuinely tell he enjoyed the involvement of the children.  My kids, with the important task of keeping the payload boxes from blowing away in the 25 MPH (with gusts over 30) Iowa nasty spring winds we thrilled to have the task.

The picture above showed my 9 year old son helping steady the top payload from blowing away.. the picture below shows my 10 year old (yes he’s shorter and smaller) doing the same with the bottom payload.  One of the experiments on this launch were separating the two payloads and running the antennas vertical between the two payloads.  It was probably a success on 20m, but it proved to be a bad idea on the parrot repeater (and maybe the APRS?) because when the balloon was above about 10,000 ft. the stations on the ground in Iowa were in the antennas deep null!

iHAB-4 Bottom Payload

The payloads are a clever version of simple technology:  Here is an example:

iHAB-4 20m CW Beacon inside the payload box

The equipment inside the payload is decidedly low-tech.  I actually decided to show the 20m beacon as it is probably the most custom piece of hardware in the whole balloon.  The repeaters and APRS transmitters are literally Alinco small Handi-Talkies.

Marshall is not an electrical engineer.  He’s willing to fly payloads that the ham community provides.  (So build something for him!)  Personally, if I had time (which I don’t) I’d like to do a SDR ARISSat-1 style linear transponder with the APRS beacon as the transponder beacon.  Marshall also said that he has most or all of the equipment to do a crossband FM repeater.  But he believes the “parrot” repeater is more accessible to hams.  I think it’s rather awkward to operate through.  Maybe the community can convince him not to fear 70cm.  I worked the parrot repeater with a $99 TYT dual band HT.  Dual band FM rigs are cheap now!

The main point, though is the science and the “WOW!” factor of the event for the kids.  Actually the iHAB-4 launch was probably the least technically successful launches that he did– really.. almost nothing on it worked fully correctly!  But the specific involvement of the children on this launch made the event really special.  Marshall, W0OTM should be lauded for his willingness to cooperate with the homeschool assistance program and his utter excitement and positive energy was an inspiration to my kids– and all of the kids at the event.

He also reminded me, now 25 years into the hobby and — even though I am only 42 years old– I am definitely a curmudgeon and a OF…   the excitement I had early in my ham radio experience.  I suppose I need to try to recapture some of that.

The event was covered by the local newspaper (the Cedar Rapids Gazette) and their associated TV station KCRG-TV (Channel 9) in Cedar Rapids.  So there was very good positive advertising for the hobby with this event.

KCRG-TV 9 report on iHAB-4 launch — video on You Tube

Yes, my children and I seriously get our 15 seconds of fame here.

There are a lot of primary source info about this event on the website at the following link:

Of course who are these goofy people posed by the fully inflated and ready to go:

The Motley Balloon Observation crewe

The Motley Balloon Observation crewe

4/6 of the Spinner clan.  My youngest son and my wife stayed home to be the remote “mission control” for us!

Fred Spinner, WØFMS, is a regular contributor to and writes from Iowa, USA. Contact him at [email protected].

2 Responses to “Iowa High Altitude Balloon Launch #4”

  • Matt W1MST:


    I know that some have had difficulty bringing ham radio into their local schools, mainly because schools have such little time for any “frills” not prescribed by their often inflexible curriculums.

    Many places have active and engaged homeschooling groups who would be grateful for the chance to introduce their kids to science and elctrical engineering principles via amateur radio.

    If your club is looking to bolster community outreach, targetting local homeschooling groups is a great place to start.

  • Ivory:

    Thank you ever so for you blog post. Want more.

Leave a Comment

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter
News, Opinion, Giveaways & More!

Join over 7,000 subscribers!
We never share your e-mail address.

Also available via RSS feed, Twitter, and Facebook.

Subscribe FREE to's
Amateur Radio Newsletter

We never share your e-mail address.

Do you like to write?
Interesting project to share?
Helpful tips and ideas for other hams?

Submit an article and we will review it for publication on!

Have a ham radio product or service?
Consider advertising on our site.

Are you a reporter covering ham radio?
Find ham radio experts for your story.

How to Set Up a Ham Radio Blog
Get started in less than 15 minutes!

  • Matt W1MST, Managing Editor

Sign up for our free
Amateur Radio Newsletter

Enter your e-mail address: