Tuesday, November 16, 2010

More Views from a Hot Air Balloon

Our sister balloon descending over a pond. Dropping down near ponds revealed a colder layer of air. We used these to our advantage to get closer views. We spooked a lot of livestock doing this. (Sorry, farmers!)

We followed US Highway 29 for many miles, as it paralleled our course northward on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. A very eager driver pulled over to wave and to take pictures of us as we transited. (I hope his pictures come out, as he is shooting into the sun!) Our chase vehicle can be seen in the lower right corner.

Looking northward on US 29, the road loops through a rural community. I wonder if there was a church near this cemetary, or if this is a community cemetary. It is a very simple site, compared to many that I have seen, but it is no less dear to God than any of the others.

My nephew Nicholas needed to sit down near the end of the trip. It is hard for a child to stand in one place for an hour, and he was a real trooper. I am very happy that Nicholas was in our basket, because it makes it easier to see the ride through the proverbial eyes of a child. He made it more fun, because he thought differently than us adults about many of the things he saw. The pilot loaned him a small pair of binoculars so that he could explore better. I might have gotten nauseous doing that, but he didn't. And so he was able to point out many things that we did not see at first.
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Views from a Hot Air Balloon

Floating low over farm ponds made it possible to capture our reflection. The water is a little filthy on the surface, but the reflection is unmistakable.

The expression of natural beauty in the farms and forests of Virginia provides a real contrast. In summer, this is all green. In winter, it is void of leaves and gray. This day, however, the leaves were at their autumn peak. They are alight with reds and oranges.

The bright morning sun on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains illuminates the many farms that dominate this part of the countryside.

What happened to these cows? They look different! Not really--that is only their shadows, lengthened by the early morning sun. The many dark specks surrounding them would smell good to Kathy if we were low enough to sniff. I'm very glad that we did not land in a cattle field. (We landed in a hayfield instead!) I did not have the correct shoes for being in a manure-strewn field.
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Hot Air Balloon Landing & Packing Up

I have this in two parts. First the landing. This is actually the second landing of this ballon, in which I was a passenger. We were denied our intended landing site by a rather perturbed homeowner, so we disembarked at our next landing site. The pilot proceeded onto the next landing site, which was accessible to the chase vehicles. We were in time to record the landing.

This was followed by the deflation and packing of the balloon. If you remember how it came out so easily when it was filled for launch, then this video will make clear why the packing is so important. It reminded me of packing a spinnaker for a yacht, which I did many many times in a many years ago. The trick is to make sure your connectors are on the outside, and everything else can generally be stuffed without much additional concern.

You can clearly see that the parachute vent has been removed completely to allow the balloon to empty quickly. The process goes quickly when the ground crew squeezes the balloon like a tube of toothpaste in order to dump the air out the top hole.

The neighbors and residents all came out to celebrate the landing. It's not every day that perfect strangers drop onto your acreage asking permission for a peremptory landing. We're very thankful to these good people who turned a bright, brisk morning into a beautiful, warm morning with their hospitality.

Hot Air Balloon Liftoff

Here is a photo sequence of takeoff. We have a video of this as well, but until it is edited this will serve as a rough cut:

This lovely community of Rochelle is located in Madison County, Virginia, near the Orange County border. The bed and breakfast from which we launched is Ridge View Bed & Breakfast, and we are very thankful to the innkeepers for allowing us to have such a wonderful time at their home.

One of the interesting features of the launch is that the balloon has defrosted the ground under the basket. You should be able to make out a greener circular patch at the basket's launch site. We were heavily bundled against the cold weather, but I was not prepared for the warmth coming from the burner and from the gradual escape of the warmed air from the balloon. It made for a very pleasant trip--no shivering!

Hot Air Balloon Inflation

Seems so simple in hindsight, putting up a hot air balloon. Here is a sequence of photographs, each about 5 to 10 seconds apart, showing the inflation process.

Here is a similar, though shorter, sequence for the second balloon.

The balloon is packed with the basket-end connectors at the top of the bag. Once the connectors are attached to the basket, two people hold the bottom open while a gas-powered fan blows quickly into the balloon and while a third person pulls the bag away. The balloon naturally unpacks and fills at the same time.

Once the balloon is fully unpacked, the person at the far end puts in the parachute vent, which will enable the pilot to release hot air in order to control when and how much to descend. This completes the top seal on the balloon, which then completes the air fill.

The final step is to heat the air to around 200 degrees Fahrenheit, at which point it rises to the familiar vertical position. Once all the passengers and the pilot are added, about the temperature must be raised about 50 more degrees to lift off.

Way cool.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Becoming an Aeronaut

We went ballooning this weekend, courtesy of Kathy's brother and his wife. They made it a family affair, beginning with an overnight stay at the wonderful Ridge View Bed & Breakfast, taking off the next day from the B&B's back yard. There were 8 of us, so we required two balloons. Kathy and I, our sister-in-law and our nephew were in the foreground balloon (with the yellow lightning bolts).

We took off around 7am and landed around 9am 20-minutes drive to the north of Madison, Virginia. The weather was cold at first, so we bundled up heavily. But by the time we landed, our coats, scarves, hats, and gloves were off and laid in the backseat of the chase vehicle.

We were denied landing permission once, could not get the trucks through a gate at the second landing place (where us passengers in our balloon disembarked), but found a welcoming crowd (including one experienced ballooning enthusiast who followed us from his farm) at the final landing location.

Perhaps the funniest landing story comes from when the first balloon set down (we were in the second). A very nice lady stepped onto her back porch wearing her nightgown, was hailed from above by the balloonist asking permission to land in her yard. She gasped in awe and surprise, spilled her coffee, then fully embraced the moment and enthusiastically said yes! Then she went in calling to her family to come out and see, emerging just a minute later fully clothed in jeans and a shirt.

Ridge View is located in the center left, with the balloon support trucks in the center at our takeoff site.

This picturesque location is also great for astronomy. Jupiter and his moons were wonderfully visible through my telescope (sorry, no pictures), which delighted my 8 year old nephew considerably.

The balloonists returned us afterward to Ridge View for champagne and a splendid breakfast.

The autumn foliage was in its peak as we skimmed the eastern edge of the Blue Ridge mountains. Drifting north and looking northeast, we passed this remarkable ridge.

If you are interested in a delightful adventure, contact Mandy Rossano at Monticello Country Ballooning. They will work with any B&B in the area to take off locally, but do consider the delicious coffee and frittata at Ridge View (not to mention the excellent hosts and rooms) plus the excellent backyard launch site.

More pictures in later posts. Good night!
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