From the Editor's Desk: A Lifelong Passion for Ballooning
Cris Brisbin, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
When I was a surly, self-centered 14-year-old teenager, my parents were searching for SOMETHING that I would be interested and possibly participate in, (since most of us at 14 can’t really see beyond our own foreheads). My Mother saw a flyer advertising the “Wings Over Angel Fire” Event and saw that they were looking for volunteer crew members for the Hot Air Balloon teams that were participating in the event. She thought this would be a great idea and proceeded to sign us all up to crew.
Little did I know that this would become a life-long addiction for me, nor did I know it was a very contagious one, since ever since that fated festival day, I have seldom missed an annual event and I have always found quite a few nearby “surly teens”, and friends to drag along into their own exciting adventure and possible addiction too.
Hot Air Ballooning is simply majestic, there is really no adequate word to describe the experience. They are such wonderful and challenging vehicles of destiny. It is simply amazing that they even float at all!
There’s no other feeling that you’ll experience once you’ve taken a flight. You’ll find yourself saying things like: “Champagne & Propane, the Breakfast of Champions!”, and calling yourself a “balloonatic” etc. You’ll find yourself up (happily) at 4:30am to get the hot cocoa ready and get your “layers on” so you can get to the morning briefing.
Up, up, and away!
In an age when jet engines can blast us around the world in hours and rockets routinely zoom into space, floating under a big bag full of gas might seem a bit old-fashioned — but then hot-air balloons were where air travel really began. Ask most people who were the pioneers of human flight and they’ll answer “The Wright brothers” without a moment’s thought. But those brilliant men from Ohio were just the inventors of engine-powered human flight; two other brothers, Joseph Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier, beat them into the air by about 120 years when they developed the first practical hot air balloons.
Hot air balloons work because hot air rises. By heating the air inside the balloon with the propane burner, it becomes lighter than the cooler air on the outside. This causes the balloon to float upwards, as if it were in water. Obviously, when the air is allowed to cool, the balloon begins to slowly come down.
Every Pilot I’ve ever worked for describes the landing as a “Controlled Crash”, and believe me, I’ve been in some ROUGH landings, but it makes it all the more fun!
You launch a hot air balloon by unwrapping the envelope and laying it along the ground. You tie it to your burners and basket and use a large fan to inflate it with cold air. When that’s done, you remove the fan and use the burners to heat the air until it’s hot enough to lift you off the ground. Once you’re airborne, all you can really control is whether the balloon rises or falls: you can go up by turning on the burners to heat the air in the envelope; you can go down by opening the parachute vent to allow hot air to escape and cool air to rush in to take its place. So up and down is easy, but what about steering? Once you’ve mastered ballooning, you’ll find you can move sideways (very crudely) by making the balloon rise or fall so it catches air currents (light winds or breezes) blowing in the direction in which you want to travel. But it’s all a bit hit-and-miss—and one of the joys of hot-air ballooning is that you never quite know where you’re going to go!
Here are some key moments in ballooning history:
c.200 BCE: Greek mathematician Archimedes (287–212 BCE) explains the idea of buoyancy: objects can float in fluids (liquids and gases) by displacing them (pushing them aside) so their weight is exactly balanced by the pressure of the fluid pushing up beneath them. Ships are supported by water pressure; balloons are held up by
17th Century CE: Irish-born chemist Robert Boyle (1627–1691) shows how fluids become lighter (less dense) when they’re heated.
June 1783: Two French Brothers, Joseph-Michel Montgolfier and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier (1740–1810 and 1745–1799), make the first practical hot-air balloon using a linen envelope lined with paper. Instead of gas burners, they use a simple fire made of wood and straw.
November 1783: Two more Frenchmen, the Marquis d’Arlandes (1742–1809) and Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier (1757–1785), travel 9km (5.5 miles) across Paris, France in a balloon made by the Montgolfiers. The age of human flight has really begun!
August 1859: Mail is carried across the United States by hot-air balloon for the first time. John Wise attempts to ferry a package of 123 letters from Lafayette, Indiana to New York City, but has to abort when he reaches Crawfordsville, Indiana.
1863: French author Jules Verne popularizes hot-air ballooning in his novel Five Weeks in a Balloon. (His later novel, Around the World in 80 Days doesn’t actually feature any travel by balloon, though this becomes a key part of the story when the book was filmed in 1956 & again in 2004.)
1978: American balloonists Maxie Anderson, Ben Abruzzo, and Larry Newman become the first people to cross the Atlantic Ocean by balloon (from Presque Isle, Maine to Miserey, France). Their craft, Double Eagle II, is filled with helium gas rather than hot air.
1987: British businessman Richard Branson and copilot Per Lindstrand become the first people to cross the Atlantic Ocean by hot-air balloon.
1999: Breitling Orbiter 3, piloted by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones, becomes the first hot-air balloon to fly around the world non-stop (in just under 20 days).
2002: American Steve Fossett manages to circumnavigate the world by balloon in a mere 13.5 days.
2005: Indian Dr Vijaypat Singhania achieves a new altitude record of over 21,000 metres (69,000 feet), flying over Mumbai.
If you get the chance to crew, Sign Up! You’ll never regret it! I’ll see ya out on the field!