Some people, when retiring, are fond of fishing, others – golf. But when Roland – better known as F5ZV on an amateur radio station – left the deserved rest, he devoted himself to another unusual occupation: hunting for radiosondes.
Meteorologists launch white plastic boxes on balloons, full of tools for measuring wind, temperature and humidity. These devices transmit information to the ground with the help of radio waves, but somewhere at an altitude of 30 km the balls burst, and radiosondes descend on parachutes.
Roland began using a radio and antenna to search for landed boxes on rooftops, parking lots and even pastures. “He was obsessed with radiosondes,” recalls Swedish photographer Vincent Levrat, who captured this pursuit in the series “Catch Me If You Can.” “He can rise in the middle of the night to go hunting,” the photographer added.
According to Roland himself, across Europe at least a thousand hunters keep track of the launch of radiosondes. Hunting they begin with a special software called Balloon Track, by which it is possible to determine the approximate landing area of radiosondes. Balloon Track calculates the trajectory based on wind speed and flight altitude.
The hunt itself can take more than six hours, so hunters take snacks with them. “Cheese, bread and a bottle of wine,” Roland jokes, who allowed himself to be photographed only on condition that his name remains a mystery.
The antenna and radio receiver are tuned to the frequency of the radiosonde and can listen to its signals, which are then decoded using the computer program SondeMonitor. Often the probes turn out to be in quite unpredictable places: for example, in the kitchen of a perplexing couple who found him in the backyard. “They do not understand how I found it with an antenna,” explains Roland.
Photographer Levrat lives in Lausanne, just 45 minutes from the Pierers aerological station, where balloons with probes are launched twice a day. After he saw on television the story of the hunt for probes, he contacted the federal agency MeteoSuisse, which runs the station. There Lewrath was connected with Roland, who was just nearby, in his collection there were more than 150 probes. He made a whole site devoted to his hobby. “He is not just a hunter,” Levrat believes, “he is actually advertising the case.”
Levrat began to attend ball launches in Pierna, photographing everything. In May, the agency MeteoSuisse allowed Lewrath to attach the GoPro camera to one of the probes that was sent to the sky. As soon as the scientists learned about this, Levrat and Roland jumped into the car and drove 65 km to the supposed place of the fall, but the wind blew the probe to the nearest lake. The men lent the boat and went in search of a radiosonde and a camera on land, safe and sound.
Levrat captured this unusual hunt from all possible angles: from the radiosonde, hovering at an altitude of 20 kilometers, and the eyes of the man who tracks this box from the ground.