Saturday, August 1, 2015

Hot Air Balloons in Cortez, Colorado

I found out there would be a Hot Air Balloon Fest in a nearby town this weekend, so I called for information. I have been to a couple small balloon launches and it was fun watching the setup. The woman who answered the information phone told me where it was and then asked me if I wanted to be on a crew. I told her that sounded like fun and that I would like to do it.

When I arrived at the park launch site, at 6 AM (when I'm usually still sleeping), it was overcast and at the pilot briefing, there was a discussion if they should even launch because rain was predicted. The general consensus was that if the individual pilots felt it was safe, it was their decision.

I was set up as crew with a couple other people and trudged across the soggy lawn to the small trailer containing the balloon we were to set up. The first thing out of the trailer was the wicker basket, about 4' tall and maybe about 4' x 3'. It has a sturdy wooden floor, and it was easy to tip out of the trailer, but heavy to move away from the trailer. It had two large propane tanks in it also. The next thing to come out was a huge canvas bag containing the balloon itself, which they call an "envelope". It was heavy to move also, but as we started unloading it and moved the bag down the field, it got lighter. 
Luckily, one of the guys crewing was a balloon pilot also, so he knew how to set things up. The other two of us were given jobs as needed. While the two pilots set up the basket, the other novice and I were given the task of spreading out the balloon, which was laying on the ground. By then, the basket was laying down and the burner connected to 2 large propane tanks in the basket. There was a large fan powered by a Honda generator and while we held up the bottom part of the balloon (with a flexible hoop inside it), so that the fan could pump air into the balloon to inflate it. This took quite a while and my arms were getting tired, but it was fascinating to watch it inflate. There was so much material lying on the ground that we could look inside and see how much was left to inflate. 

When we finally got it all inflated, it was still lying on the ground, but when the burners were turned on and shot warm air into the balloon, it started to slowly rise. The pilot wanted to move further into the field to a less crowded spot, so he turned on the burners so the basket lifted off the ground slightly while the crew maneuvered it to where he wanted it.

Since he didn't have any paying customers, he said he was only going to do a couple take offs and landings and asked the first crew member if she and her 5 year old son wanted a ride. She wanted to go, but the son was scared so they declined. He turned to me and asked if I wanted a ride - I hopped into the basket (not as easy as it looks) as fast as I could.

I've been wanting to go on a balloon ride, but they're really pricey out here. I was so glad that I had this chance for a short trip. The only photos I had a chance to take were during the trip, since I was working during the assembly. It was a bit of a strange feeling to be floating along in the open air with just the sound of the burners once in a while when he needed a lift.

Halfway through the trip, he told me he was going to land and give the other pilot a ride. He brought it down in an open field, with just a few bumps. The other passenger got in and then I got out and headed over to the chase vehicle. We then followed the balloon to another open field where it seemed like most of them were landing. The second landing was a bit more bumpy, and when he finally set down he must have hit a soft spot because the basket tipped almost halfway over. I'm glad I had the first landing!

Then, of course, we had to pack it all up and stow it in the trailer. It was hard work for such a short trip, but I can see why these people fly balloons. I could get used to floating through the sky with very little noise. I guess I'll have to check to see where these balloon festivals are being held.



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