S#76: I am an aeronaut

I’ve written a shiny new guest blog (about ballooning and sailing a tall ship, from the perspective of a writer), all the details of which will be revealed very soon.

Today, finally, is the triumphant blog of riding in a hot air balloon. Here’s how it went:

The pilot released a large helium balloon with a light on it – for wind speed – then laid out the nylon envelope (with our help).

CJ and I held the envelope open while it was inflated with a powerful fan (only about half inflated, really). The pilot walked inside, checking the ropes to the vents on the top and side were lined up correctly.

The top vent is mainly useful for descending – possibly very quickly – while the side vent/s change direction by venting air sideways (not actually steering).

Fire! The air grew hotter and hotter until the balloon stood up, soon pulling the basket with it (with a little help from us). We climbed in over the sides. At this early stage, the burner was uncomfortably hot on the top of my head because it was on so much of the time.

And then we flew – so lightly and so high – like a feather blown off the ground that floats up so smoothly. The strangest part was how easy and natural it felt.

The flight part of this article is here, where I get paid for it 🙂

We overshot about four possible landing spots and ended up out of Canberra in a random farm (causing considerable difficulty for our follow vehicles). Turning in a circle, there were literally no man-made buildings in any direction. We were lost!

As we came in to land, it looked like we’d tip over – but we didn’t.

CJ stood on the envelope so it didn’t refill.

We pushed the envelope into a long sausage shape, which we later shoved willy-nilly into a large nylon bag.

The pilot knew the pilot of the Melbourne flight that was on the news in January when it had overshot the beach and descended in the sea. The pilot had kept the balloon hovering just above the waves until a boat reached them. He tied the balloon to the boat, safely unloaded all the passengers, and then towed the balloon in to shore. The envelope was a new one, and cost $80,000.

Our pilot also lent me a fabulous Time/Life book called “The Aeronauts”, some sections of which are reproduced here:

After a long and terrifying flight from St Louis in 1859, four men were brought down by a storm over Lake Ontario.

One final squall hurled the balloon against a high tree, where it expired. The basket lodged in a fork about 20 feet up. Cautiously the men inspected themselves. LaMountain had suffered contusions on one hip; the other three were shaken but unhurt. Lowering themselves by ropes, they were greeted by a dumbfounded delegation of citizens from the nearby town of Henderson, New York. An elderly lady expressed surprise to see “so sensible-looking a party” debarking from “such an outlandish-looking vehicle”. She asked where they had come from. “St Louis,” Wise replied. The lady fixed him with the gimlet gaze of an experienced detector of humbugs. “That will do, now,” she said.

In the 1820s…

Green used all kinds of innovations to keep his performances lively. One of his earliest triumphs was an ascent on a pony attached by ropes to the balloon’s hoop; he calmed the animal by feeding it beans from his hand. A planned flight in the company of a tiger and its trainer was canceled when the authorities intervened.

In 1957, as part of his training for space, Major David G. Simons went aloft in a cylindrical capsule measuring just three by eight feet. He was in it for 43.5 hours in one stretch, wearing a pressurized space suit so snug he said it was like “being loved by an octopus.”

In 1906, a man called Butler took a group of dinner guests from London to Brighton in a balloon, stopping frequently to correct their direction. At one stage, with little idea where they were, they landed in a tree. They awoke a large number of birds, which then awoke the owner of the tree.

“Goodness gracious!” exclaimed the man, raising the window. “Who are you?”

“Balloonists, resting,” replied Butler. “Where are we?”

“Twelve miles from Brighton, going South. Are you stuck?”

“Oh, no, we’re very happy. You don’t mind us sitting on top of your tree, do you?”

“Not at all,” said the man, who then closed the window with a polite “Good night.”

7 thoughts on “S#76: I am an aeronaut

    • W: Thank you, W. The more awesomenesses I do in central Canberra, the more the Carillion pops up (I have Carillion fireworks pics for a blog a few days from now).

    • Jolyon: Your jealousy is richly deserved. Although, interestingly, for me horseriding was equally exhilarating (and a lot cheaper). For CJ it’s ballooning all the way.

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