BALLOONS, the GENTLE GIANTS
As the winter weather warms up, getting back in the air
will be a priority again within a very short period of
time. We’ll get into the spring and summer, and
airplanes across the country will begin showing up,
uncovered on the tarmac and emerging from cold hangars.
It’s an annual ritual, and has been for many years. But
long before the Wright brothers gave us powered
aircraft, hot air balloons were flying in many countries
around the world. The first flights took place in
France around 1783, when primitive air bladders were
constructed with enough strength to make them airworthy
and able to support the weight of a pilot.
hot-air balloons became popular only in the 1960’s, and
have been primarily used for recreational flying.
Advertisers have taken advantage of the spectacle these
balloons provide wherever they’re flown too. Their
color, designs and graceful appearance attract attention
even as much as the biggest, loudest jet aircraft.
winters away from the Canadian cold in a small,
south-west Arizona city that hosts many events geared to
attracting winter visitors. One of these shows is a hot
air balloon festival, held over a three-day weekend in
mid January. You might think that having seen the
spectacle of fifty or more of these giant balloons
launching from the same place, you’d get tired of it.
Not so! Year after year, folks are attracted to the
show and witness these majestic giants floating
aimlessly, back and forth where ever the breezes take
them. It’s all very peaceful and magical. The blue sky
is filled with amazing color and designs, an awesome
sight to behold.
glance, it would appear to be a simple matter to pilot
one of these balloons. You just apply the heat to
climb, let it cool to descend. But there is in fact,
much more to it. Transport Canada (and the FAA) have
strict rules for licensing pilots of these vehicles.
They’re also issued an air-worthiness certificate, just
like a powered aircraft.
balloons are capable of obtaining incredible altitudes
and distances. The record for altitude was set in
India where a balloon was flown to almost 69,000 feet,
while the longest flight record is nearly 4,700 miles,
achieved in 1991 from Japan to northern Canada.
many hot-air balloon festivals each summer across
Canada, and if you’re a pilot, no matter what you fly,
you should make an attempt to attend one. You won’t be
disappointed. You will marvel at the magic, the serenity
and gentle maneuvers, and at the skills these pilots
display. Remember, about the only control they have
over a giant balloon is to make it go up and down.
Where it goes is decided by the wind. The pictures I
was able to obtain over the three-day festival can’t
capture the experience of watching and riding in the
gondola of one of these balloons. But I have included a
few which will perhaps share the magic we all experience
when the festival comes to town.