Storm and I won!!! As first year volunteers at AIBF, we were entered in a drawing for a free balloon ride and our names were drawn. This is not just your average, garden variety hot air balloon ride either. This is a free ride during the Special Shapes Mass Ascension in the Crew Balloon with extremely talented local pilot, Tim Evans. Our ride will be the crème de la crème of balloon rides.
The weather has been fantastic all week at the Fiesta so naturally the forecast for our ride on Friday is horrifying. Gale force winds at 16 MPH gusting even more are guaranteed and the nightly TV weather speculators have all but red flagged Friday’s balloon activities by the time the 6:00pm news signs off.
OBVIOUSLY the weather estimators here have never reckoned with the Sunny Weathers effect. NO WAY are winds of any kind going to ruin my chance at this once in a lifetime flight. When we report to the field for the pilot briefing at 6:15 Friday morning and the PIBAL (Pilot Balloon) is released, it floats gently straight up wafting carelessly on the calm and undisturbed air above us. The winds are light and variable, perfect for hot air balloons. The green flag is raised and we sprint to the balloon to prepare for liftoff.
The following video documents our flight. It is the longest video I have posted and I hope you will forgive me for the length but I want you to see the airborne special shapes and I hope to share with my airplane pilot friends some of the unusual challenges of balloon flying – especially landing! For instance if you carefully study the video right after Storm and I land and before Tim takes off again, you will notice the ground crew is diverting away from the balloon the water spurting sprinkler heads of an irrigation system that turns on right after we touch down. One hardly ever has to worry about sprinklers when landing an airplane! Also the section near the end of the video where the crew has to “taxi” the balloon from the road to a grassy area for deflation was a unique experience to a fixed wing pilot like me. You will also be delighted to know that the crewman handling the topline never let the US Flag touch the ground. Scott (at the topline) told us that the flag was flown on a mission in Afghanistan and given to Tim for his balloon after that mission. Here is the video – enjoy!