The joys of hot air ballooning 3



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There is absolutely nothing like it, and although it is the oldest form of aerial transport, it is still popular today – in fact, with the development of modern materials and efficient gas burners, its popularity is actually growing.

I mean hot air ballooning of course, something that started as far back as 220 AD with the Chinese making them out of fine paper with a small burner installed in the base, I would imagine quite a few of these set light to neighbourhood houses as well!

The first documented balloon flight in Europe was by the Brazilian priest Bartolomeu de Ousmao at Lisbon in August 1709, who made a small paper model similar to the Chinese one mentioned above, I can find no record of any damage he might have done!

The first known manned flight was made by the Montgolfier brothers at Paris in November 1783, it was tethered and only rose a few feet from the ground – but it was a start!

Over the following years many deigns for balloons were produced, some successful, some downright failures, and the two main sources of energy used were hot air by means of a fire hanging under the balloon and hydrogen gas pumped into the balloon itself. Both methods, I would think, were highly dangerous, considering the materials used to manufacture them!

Nowadays we have a wide choice of lightweight, fireproof, non-melting materials from which to make a balloon, and the heat can be provided from large gas bottles hung above the passenger basket and just under the neck of the vehicle. Gas-filled balloons are also used, but these are today filled with inert and entirely safe helium rather than the highly explosive hydrogen of the past!

Modern competitions are now held regularly, all over the world, testing the skills of the pilots, to find the right breeze to get them to a particular, selected target, many kilometres away. Depending on what height the pilot decides to fly at, he may find winds of different speeds, travelling in different directions, all of which a skilled pilot can use to get him to his destination, bearing in mind that a balloon can only fly down-wind; that is to say, if the wind is blowing from north to south, then the balloon must travel south too!

Flying in a balloon is a truly wonderful experience, quite different from any other form of transport. For a start, no matter how strongly the wind is blowing, on board the basket it is always very still and very quiet. This is because the balloon is travelling at the same speed as the wind, which is the motive-force that drives it. You also have the fun of being able to shout down to anyone below, and watch them trying to figure out where the voice is coming from, before they hear the roar of the gas being ignited to inject more hot air into the canopy, and they look up. It’s interesting too, the way that cattle follow the balloon as it drifts across their paddock, or dogs bark wildly up at it, whether from fear or bravado I have no idea.

And all this is going on while you lean over the top of a basket-work wall, no thicker than a Sunday newspaper, a wall that creaks every time you move, and a floor that is no more substantial than the wall!

But you do get the opportunity to see the countryside around you in so much more detail than in an aircraft, because you move so much more slowly, or even remain stationery if the breeze drops off altogether. That’s something I could only do when flying in my glider, if the wind I was heading into was the same strength as the speed I was trying to fly, but blowing in the opposite direction to the one I wished to go! (And in that situation, you don’t get a lot of time to look at the scenery!)
Everyone should have a go at ballooning, it is unhurried (except sometimes, when you try to land – but that is another story!) it’s at one with nature and compared to the cost of renting a light aircraft, it’s reasonably inexpensive. Go on, have a go!

Have you been on a hot air balloon ride?

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Brian Lee

  1. On ‘bucket list’, is to fly over Cappadocia in one!

  2. When I celebrated my 50th birthday back in 1998 my children and I were booked into what was “only” my first balloon flight and it was over Melbourne, my home town. Absolutely beautiful in the Springtime flying over the outskirts of the city and near the botanical gardens. I have always said Melbourne is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and to see it from afar took my breath away and was such a memorable experience to have with my son and daughter. In 2013 a friend and I were travelling in Europe and we had booked a balloon flight whilst we were to be in Brugge Belgium, it too was amazing such beautiful farms dotting the countryside, and also seeing parts of the city. We landed in just a small patch of farmland, the farmer and his neighbours were watching as we just “about” tore down his wire fence with the bottom of the basket, we celebrated after packing up the balloon with the obligatory toast of Champagne, in fact we were “blessed” with a drop over our heads as well, a “little game they played”. Such an amazing experience and would recommend it to anyone regardless of age, well maybe not under 5yrs, but you get my drift.

  3. We flew in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia – truly amazing! It was expensive, and we chose the most expensive group to go with – and we were so glad that we did. (After all, you only do it once in your life!) Most of the balloons had very large baskets, with heaps of people in them, and they went up … stayed a while … and went down. We went with the crowd that has two smaller baskets, and the two travelled together up and down, over hills and along valleys, sometimes so close to the ground that we could see small wildlife (who were undisturbed by our silent arrival). The two balloons chased each other around and around, giving great photo opportunities from one to the other. Finally we headed back to where the other balloons were all just heading back down and we went up very high, getting a view of the whole district. We came down and landed right on the trailer. Then the local people ran to join us and share champagne and cakes, and decorate the baskets with wild-flowers. I know that they do it every day, but they made it special for us.

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