Come, Ride in My Balloon!
MANY of us have enjoyed the experience of flying in an airplane. Perhaps it was a small single-engine plane flying at a hundred miles (160 kilometers) per hour. Or, maybe it was a commercial aircraft cruising at some 600 miles per hour (960 kilometers per hour). The views are always breathtaking. But how many of us have flown in a craft that travels only five to six m.p.h. (8 to 9 k.p.h.), makes no noise and can fly low enough to let us pick an apple off a tree?
Impossible? Why not see for yourself? Come along with me for a ride in my beautiful balloon.
First, a Word About Balloons
Two basic types of balloon are in use today. To lift it skyward, the gas balloon—much like a child’s helium balloon at a circus—relies on a gas that is lighter than air. It may be hydrogen gas or helium.
Today we’ll be riding in the other type, a hot-air balloon. To create lift, we simply heat the air inside it. One look at sparks rising from a campfire shows that hot air rises.
Admittedly, there are dangers associated with ballooning. Not long ago, in the state of Georgia, U.S.A., a hot-air balloonist was killed when his craft struck a power line. Both the man and his passenger were thrown over thirty feet (9 meters) to the ground. The passenger escaped death in the accident, but did suffer rib fractures. This is not mentioned to scare you. However, it does emphasize the importance of good judgment and alertness.
Let’s Go for a Ride!
We’ll begin our inflation of the balloon at 5:30 am. The balloonist has one chief enemy—strong winds. So, the morning, usually the calmest part of the day, is when we go flying.
Hop into your car and follow me, not to the airport, but to a small farm just outside the town. When not inflated, the entire balloon can fit into a small trailer that is towed behind my car. And any area the size of a baseball diamond infield becomes our own private airport.
Give me a hand pulling the basket and balloon from the trailer, and we’ll spread it out on the ground to prepare for inflation. As we start to stretch out the balloon, or envelope, a person begins to appreciate its enormous size. Why, here we have over a thousand yards (900 meters) of light-weight nylon and almost four miles (6 kilometers) of thread! When finally inflated, the balloon is over eighty feet high and fifty feet wide (24 by 15 meters)!
As we fill the envelope with cold air, using a fan, the balloon starts to “breathe,” or swell, showing its many striking colors. Soon we begin to heat the air, and the envelope comes to “life.” Now it is directly over our heads as we stand in the basket, or gondola, which is suspended from the balloon by cables.
You begin to ask, ‘When will we take off?’ But you are only in the middle of your question when you see the earth ‘fall away.’ Unlike sensations in other aircraft, there is no feeling of motion or vibration in the balloon. Hence, it is the earth, rather than the balloon, that appears to move.
As we look down on the trees and fields, words fail to describe the experience. Since we can’t steer the balloon, where the wind goes, we go. Flying is most enjoyable at low altitudes of around 500 feet (150 meters). From that height, we hear dogs barking and children shouting, laughing and calling to us—even asking for a ride. As we float on we pass over a hill and observe a family of deer bounding through the forest.
Time passes all too quickly! Why, before we realize it, we’ve been flying for a couple of hours! Our propane fuel, used to heat the air inside the balloon, is almost gone. So we begin to descend and search for a large field. Once on the ground, I pull a long cord attached to the top of the envelope. This opens the top, allowing all the hot air to escape. It took us about a half hour to inflate the balloon. But only twelve seconds are required to get it flat on the ground.
Our flight is over, but the memories linger on. Floating like a butterfly, skimming over treetops—these experiences we’ll not soon forget. We’ve had a memorable ride in my beautiful balloon.—Contributed.