by Anne Batty
There is no mistaking the gentle appeal of brightly colored balloons rising slowly and gracefully into the air. Children squeal with joy at the sight, while adults watch with necks craned and eyes skyward in fascination and wonder.
Those passengers of old, brave enough to make the ride, describe it as the best way to travel saying, “if you aren’t in a hurry, if you don’t care where you are going and if you don’t want to be annoyed by any choice of direction, take a balloon ride.” While modern passengers remark, “Flight speaks in different idioms. We can blast rockets to the stars and we can race across the sky on fixed wings, but ballooning appeals because it is more languorous and low-tech; it’s adventure in an antique mode.”
This fascination with the idea of being released from the pull of earth’s gravity to fly across the heavens with the freedom and grace of feather-winged birds, has been the desire of earthbound humankind since earliest times. It was this very enchantment with the sky that led Frenchmen Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier to create the first operational hot air balloon in 1783. Filling a taffeta balloon bag with hot air created from a straw and chopped wool fire, the brothers propelled a balloon 100-ft. into the air, following it on the ground a mile and a quarter to its eventual landing in a nearby village.
With the success of this flight, the brothers used rope to attach a passenger basket to their balloon, sending a rooster, a sheep and a goat into the air from the Palace of Versailles. Then, in that same year, French nobles Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d’Arlandes climbed into a Montgolfier balloon basket for the first manned flight.
As a result of those events, ballooning became a popular pastime in Europe, but for almost two centuries hot-air balloons were virtually ignored in the United States. Then, in the late 1950s, a balloon was built as part of an American Government research program, and although the balloon-flight principals and design remained the same, the construction of the craft varied. Instead of taffeta, the balloon bag (or envelope) was constructed of man-made fibers (like dacron, nylon and polyester), the basket was woven around and attached with steel cables, and the ride was fueled by air heated from a propane flame rather than an open fire.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that ballooning became popular with the American public as a form of entertainment and sport. Spreading their multi-hues across the skies, hot air balloons engaged participation from individuals and groups, inspired races and added excitement to city and state festivals. Today, people across the United States continue catching balloon rides and engaging in its sport, and as Le Figaro remarked in 1908 those participating … have known a magnificent intoxication. Learning how it feels to be a bird, they have flown and are still astonished at it, still deeply moved.
CATCHING A RIDE
In the Beach Cities area, ballooning is offered in Temecula, Del Mar and San Diego and can be reserved for individuals or groups. Romance, special occasion and holiday packages, family group rides and individual participation in pre-formed group rides are obtainable. Costs vary within companies, ranging from approximately $35 to $500 per person depending on location of flight, length of flight and amenities offered. Most companies offer package deals.
Amenities may include: Chilled beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), Continental breakfasts (morning flights), hors d’ oeuvres (evening flights), transportation from landing site back to launch site, photo, flight diploma, post flight celebration, and more.
The winds have welcomed you
The sun has greeted you with
its warm hands,
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in laughter,
And set you back gently into
The loving arms of Mother Earth …
the Balloonist’s Prayer
What to Expect
Balloons are registered aircraft subject to airworthiness checks.
Balloon pilots must be licensed, with a rating by the FAA as Private or Commercial.
For inflation, balloons are laid upon the ground, filled with cold air by an engine driven fan and heated by a burner, which in turn blows the balloon up.
Balloons operate on the basic principles of gravity and heat transfer. As air inside heats up it rises, as air cools it descends.
Winds determine flight path. Pilots steer, to a limited extent, using wind speeds and direction.
Balloons typically fly from treetop level to 3,000 ft.
Rides are held at sunrise and sunset, as winds are most favorable and predictable at those times.
Balloon baskets do not sway, and since the craft moves gently with the wind there is no air sickness.
Balloons take off from one site and land at another, and can be carried as far as 15 miles. A chase vehicle brings passengers back to the launch site.
Sufficient fuel for at least 2 hours flight time plus a 30-minute reserve capacity is carried onboard.
Rides are followed on the ground by a Chase Crew.
Pilots keep contact with Chase Crew and Air Traffic Control in the area via radio.
Dress comfortably in layered clothing.
Wear enclosed flat-soled shoes.
Hats suggested for tall passengers to deflect heat from burners.
Women - no dresses – pants or shorts only.
No age limit – at customer’s discretion – note that children under 5 could be frightened by burner noise and height.
About 2 1/2 to 3 hours flight time from start to finish.
Flight preparation - around 30 minutes – flight itself roughly one hour – after flight ceremonies approximately 30 minutes.
Undetermined time to arrive and depart launch site.