Sunday, 10 April 2016

Up, up and away in a hot air balloon

This morning I had the pleasure of going hot air ballooning!

There is quite a bit of ballooning that goes on around here - totally understandable when you see the area. We've got lots of open fields (with road access) for take offs and landing as well as the scenic Vaal River and Vredefort Dome to look down on.

This morning I was up before 5am to meet at a place a few minutes from town. The air was still. Like totally still. The test balloon went straight up. Today was never going to be a distance outing.

I thoroughly enjoyed helping Felicity (pilot) and Rich (pilot) to get their kit ready and balloons inflated. Everything, from the basket to the gas tanks and balloons, is sooooo heavy! These are small baskets that can hold three people (possibly four at a squish?) and it takes a few of us to move one. I don't even think that four people could lift a basket? We tilt them to move them around and to get them on and off the trailers. And these balloons are 'small', as far as balloons go. Imagine how big a balloon must be to lift one of those huge baskets that can carry 12-odd people? !

It was really cool when the fans started to blow air into the balloons. They lie horizontal on the ground as they inflate.

Sunrise happenin'

This is Rich inside the balloon, securing the crown. He is there - to the right of the round  yellow centre circle. And this is a 'small' balloon!
Then the burners blast heat into the balloon and it rises, tilting the basket upright.

Felicity in her basket.
I was in the basket with Rich and we took off smoothly. With absolutely no wind, we knew from the outset that this would not be a day for distance; but we did hope to get to the Vaal River at least.

We took to the air first. Looking down on Felicity's balloon.
Alas, it was not to be. We caught some very light breezes but pretty much got no more than 500 metres from where we started. It was very misty and I really enjoyed looking out at the Vredefort Dome, towards the hills that I've spent so much time in recently for Forest Run planning.

Felicity in the air.
Looking towards the Vaal. Mist all around. No river in sight.
Our shadow.
We tried for a while to catch a breeze at different heights and then drifted back towards where we set off. We landed in a field about 300 metres straight-line from where we started. This was really easy for Sylvia and the friendly guy who was staying at the venue - they were driving the vehicles with the trailers to fetch us.

It is heavy and warming work to deflate the balloon and to pack everything up. The weight is everything is really quite incredible.

Two curious horses and two curious donkeys came to see what we were up to in their field.
It was a good experience to go hot air ballooning. It really is quite remarkable and would make for an amazing, practical physics class - this whole hot air rising thing; as well as volumes and weights. It must be very exciting to fly distances on strong winds and also to great heights. I look forward to other opportunities.

My thanks to Sylvia for inviting me and to Felicity (pilot), Rich (pilot) and Koos (I really don't think this is his real name!), who warmly welcomed me.

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