Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Hot Air

My son left for work very early Saturday morning and a short time later he called the home phone and said, "Mom, get dressed and get your camera. There's someone blowing up a hot air balloon over at Lily Lake School".

My family knows well that I will be on the photo hunt at the drop of a hat. This had the possibility of being the most exciting thing to happen around here since the gas station closed down. Why would that be exciting? Because that place was so poorly maintained we were all fearful that it would go up in smoke! The newspaper had been out several times to do investigative pieces on the property.

Scary gas station.

A hot air balloon would provide some much needed excitement in my life. I threw on a pair of jeans, a top and jacket and ran out the door, saying a quick goodbye to the Farmer. I envisioned myself as some kind of modern day Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson all rolled into one. I'd get the story!! I'd photograph the story!! This is a dream come true for someone who once labored under the weight of a corporate newspaper chain.

The Red Sled transported me to the school in a few minutes but alas, the parking lot was empty, no balloon. I did spot two people climbing into a large van. This must be the launch/chase vehicle. That meant the balloon was airborne and couldn't have gotten very far.

At this point I'll say that living on a mostly flat-as-a-pancake terrain has some benefits. I determined which was the wind was blowing and head off in that direction. At a nearby intersection (location of the aforementioned crumbling gas station) I spotted the balloon. It was actually over the spot where a local reader lives.

I followed along going south as the balloon drifted off to my left. I need to mention that it was VERY chilly on Saturday morning. I was thinking like a mom saying to myself, "They better have hats and gloves on."

I turned left and got this shot as they passed overhead and continued to drift south. As everyone always mentions, it's silent running.

Turning down another rural road put them off to my right. I was surprised how fast their direction changed. Now they're heading southwest, over a cornfield heading towards a small shopping area.

All of a sudden, after they passed the food store they lost altitude. They weren't quite as low as it appears in this photo.

They continued to drift over the town at a low altitude. It appeared that they were preparing to land but I couldn't think of a possible landing spot in this town.

Floating over the grain elevator. At this point I decided it would be fun to be their official chase vehicle. I didn't see the van anywhere, so perhaps they phone the crew when they finally land.

I'm looking to see if they're dressed warmly. Once a mom, always a mom.

On the other side of town they descended even further over a corn field just south of the train station.

Silently they drifted down.

Just a few feet from the ground and across the road from some electric lines.

They didn't land!!! They fired up the flames and climbed fast, clearing the danger easily. It appears that they were practicing the maneuver. The balloon headed south again and quickly drifted towards the east which is a heavily populated area.

It was so early and I was needing coffee so I left them to their adventure, with lots of unanswered questions.

- How much fuel do they carry and how long can they remain airborne?
- What do they do if they drift over a large city with no good landing site?
- Does your mom know you're doing this dangerous stuff?

How about you? Have an urge to go ballooning?

Thanks for coming along with me in my unofficial chase vehicle!


Linds said...

I went ballooning for a 50th birthday adventure a few years ago and I LOVED it! It is very cold, but then there is not much wind up there, and it is totally silent, except for the flaring now and then. I loved being low enough to see into people's gardens, and they all wave around here! We landed somewhat bumpily in a field on the outskirts of a city 30 or so miles away, and included in the package was a stunning breakfast at a 5 star hotel afterwards. Sigh. I had a ball. And I have loads of photos too!

Lucy said...

I was up at an elementary fair thing once when they left it tied to the ground. So...maybe six minutes? But even then I found it so very quiet up there and relaxing. I'd do it again without being tied to the ground.

dara Ickes said...

When I was a child about the age of 8 or 9 I remember a hot air balloon crash landed in the corn field behind my house. they tried to set down beside our house in the open space but couldn't make it. We ran through the cornfield rows to find them. They were fine and so was the balloon. They just drifted too far and were out of fuel. I remember that was the talk of my small town (actually only the size of a small village)

Anonymous said...

We celebrated our first wedding anniversary this past September with a hot air balloon ride... it was nice!


The Blue Ridge Gal
(enjoyed this post!)

Balou said...

How fun Suzanne! I can actually be of some help here! My husband and I own a hot air balloon and the hubby is a pilot. We often get guest chasers following the balloon. If we do not land on private property - like on or beside a roadway, we often invite our guest chasers to help pack up the balloon.

Regarding landing in town, you'd be amazed, on a slow wind flight, where the pilots can pinpoint a landing in a small area. Hubby once landed in a suburb of the Twin Cities in a tiny park. But they probably made a decision to fly further on to find a better landing zone. They'll often do "touch & go's" if they see a good spot. It's good practice even for a seasoned pilot.

Often people think the balloons are "crash landing" because they're not landing in an airport. Balloons land about anywhere the chase crew can access and retrieve the balloon and good balloon crews always secure landowner permission when at all possible. Sometimes the landing zones are not the most desireable and that is only done if the balloon is getting low on fuel or if some emergency occurs.

The pilot can only control altitude. Direction is determined by the wind directions so they can't steer balloons. You can sometimes get layers of wind directions which is what happened in this case. Before flights we launch a helium balloon and watch what it does as it ascends to get an idea if there is any steerage via the wind directions.

We carry 2-way radios to communicate between the balloon and chase crew. We also have cell phones as backup.

It's usually pretty cozy in the basket as you have a 4 million BTU burner directly overhead. We've ballooned in -10˚ temps before. Feet can get chilly but the rest of you is warm. Plus there's no wind chill as you are traveling with the wind.

To answer your questions:
- How much fuel do they carry and how long can they remain airborne? Balloons range in sizes as do baskets but looking at this balloon, it probably is carrying two 15 gallon tanks of pressurized propane. On average, flights last around an hour - depending upon a lot of things (outside temp, winds, weight in basket, humidity...)

- What do they do if they drift over a large city with no good landing site? Like I said, you'd be amazed at how small an area is needed to land.

- Does your mom know you're doing this dangerous stuff? Ha ha. I've seen several balloon trailers with the bumper sticker "Don't tell my Mother I'm a hot air balloon pilot. She thinks I'm a piano player in a brothell."

Here's a website for the Balloon Association of Greater Illinois http://www.bagiballoon.org Go to the event page to see scheduled balloon rallies near you. Balloon rallies are a great way to talk to pilots and ask questions and also photo opportunities (weather permittting of course.) Galena has one in June.

Sorry for the dissertation. If you have any more questions - email me at talk2balou[at]gmail[dot]com.

Balou said...

Addendum: - What do they do if they drift over a large city with no good landing site? The pilots usually plan ahead where they are launching from and know wind directions. They'll avoid these situations. Balloons usually fly around more rural, open areas.

Ang. said...

How exciting! Growing up in rural Sycamore we would often see hot air balloons. We would always stop to watch. One early morning my Dad woke us up because one had landed on the road not far from us. We helped them pack up the balloon and had a nice chat with them. What a great memory!

Vee said...

What great shots! Guess that your son knows his mama. I saw hats on those guys, too.

We have a balloon festival every August so I've enjoyed a few of these chases myself. They land anywhere they can. I've seen one set down on a back lawn about the size of a postage stamp right in a residential area within city limits. It's pretty fun to watch and I'd love to take a balloon ride for myself. I want to skim over the lake the way that I always see them do.

Oh, I just loved reading all that information that Balou gave you! Aren't commenters the best?

Lisa said...

It does look fun, but I'm not sure I could handle floating in the sky in a basket....baskets don't seem sturdy enough, you know?

I love the picture of the balloon and the grain elevator. Do you happen to have a picture of the house in front of it? It looks like a beauty!

chocolatechic said...

I have always wanted to go up in a balloon...Pothole has a Hot Air Balloon festival every year, and every year I say to myself that I am going to go up in one, and every year I don't.

Trish said...

Ballooning scares the beejeebers out of me although the daredevil in me says...sure...lets try. What great shots you got there. How in the heck did you keep up with its movements. Oh you are hilarious in your comments that go with them...once a mother always a mother...ha!

Owens Family Adventures said...

When we lived in Houston we were right across the street from NASA. Every year they would have a balloon flight with about 50 hot air balloons. They would coast right over our apt complex as they descended. We would stand on our balcony and wave. It was surreal...and wonderful.
Love your pics!!! Brought back some nice memories. :)

Mary said...

How neat a photo series and even better story writing. And you are right.. Just about over our house.

Thanks for the fun entry.

Anonymous said...

I love the romance of hot-air balloons. Susanne, have you read Ray Bradbury's introduction in the reissued edition of "Dandelion Wine"? In it, there's a poignant paragraph about old-fashioned "fire balloons" that I think you'd appreciate. Happy Spring!

Significant Snail said...

That really would be so much fun! I was imagining you catching up with them and being offered a ride. Would you go?

Karen said...

Great photos !!

The Reno balloon races take place every year, here.

I love getting up early in the morning and watching the balloons drifting over the city. I usually see them as I'm walking to school.

There is usually a pilot, takng part, that comes all the way from New Zealand. He flies a balloon caled 'The Southern Cross'.

Last year, one of the pilots flew his balloon over the school and 'buzzed' the kids ...took half the morning to settle them down as they were all very excited.

I'd love to go for a ride in a hot air balloon. As to where they land. Usually, around here, most of them make it to open landing spots, however we do have the occasional one that comes down in the street, people's backyards or , on one occassion, the railroad trench. Fortunately there was no train in it at the time!

lifeinredshoes said...

Just an observation, the new houses make me kinda sad. They change the whole look of things don't they?

Cottage Rose said...

Hey Suzanne; What an exciting morning you had. You sure got some get shots of the balloon. I have thought of going for a ride in one. some day some where... If I do I will make sure I share with you all.


srp said...

I would have to have a navigator help me... but then you know the area well. What fun. The only thing better than taking pictures from the ground, would be taking them from the balloon!

Jody Blue said...

That had my heart racing as the excitement of the chase took hold!

Louise said...

We have balloons daily here. And the way our terrain is, we can see them for miles. But I have never chased one. NEVER! I've always wanted to. I've been there when they've taken off and when they have landed and everything in between, but not the whole flight of a single balloon. And I always want to know how long they stay up. I need to follow your example!

Suzanne said...

Linds - Now that's a great birthday gift. All kinds of wonderful things wrapped up in that package. I'm glad you were able to create a wonderful memory.

Lucy - I've seen those tethered balloon rides and ahve always wanted to try one. I've also see the bungee jumping but never wanted to try that!

Dara - Yes, a crash landing balloon is big news in small places. The problem with a cornfield is that if the corn is really high, it's easy to get totally lost. That's why the corn mazes are so much fun.

Di - What a way to celebrate. You're such a newlywed!

Balou - UNBELIEVABLE!!! I knew that if I posted the questions there would be someone to answer with great information. It's so interested to read all bout the rest of the story about ballooning. Don't worry about dissertations, I write them ALL the time. I'm going to check out the link and see if I can make it to a balloon rally this summer. Again, thanks so much.

Ang - Sycamore misses you. How often do you get back? If it's been awhile you might feel disoriented in certain parts of town because it's changed so much.

Vee - My commenters are the BEST, including you. I can always count on you for some good information too. And I'm going to include my official Crappy Commenter, Pam Kitty Morning. She's been very consistently not commnenting. My thought is, "Those also serve who only read and don't comment".

Lisa - I think those baskets are very sturdy and flexible, if that makes sense. The balloon with the grain elevator is one of my favorite shots also. I'll go back and get a picture of the house, but I think that might actually be apartments. I need to do some town tours.

Chocolatechic - I can't believe you've never been to the festival!!! As a homeschooling mom you could tie in the balloon fest with a lesson on aerodynamics, weather, etc. You need to go and report back to us.

Trish, the balloon is fairly simple to track because they simply drift along. You need to know the territory and all the roads in order to keep following them on the ground.

Dawn - That sounds like it was a magical sight, all those balloons floating silently. I wonder if you have any stories about living near NASA.

Mary - I was thinking of you when I saw the balloon headed that way.

Cindy - I'm going to seek it out. I have an old pocket edition. It doesn't have the introduction and besides it's teeny tiny print on yellowed pages and it was so difficult to read. I want to try again, so I'm going to seek out the new edition. I'm always astounded by writers who seem able to craft the perfect sentence or the perfect paragraph. Loren Eiseley is another author who's able to do this.

SS - Hmmmm, I might just do that. I'm a very impulsive person and usually willing to jump at the chance for an adventure. As for flying in small aircraft or hot air balloons, I think I'd like to actually know my pilot.

Karen - I love your description of the balloon rally and especially the part about how excited the school kids got when he buzzed them. This is how dreams are built.

Red Shoes - I can't even tell you. Just past those houses stands a lone rusting windmill which was part of the farm that stood on that land. It's like a ghost. Kinda creepy.

Alaura - Get thee up into a balloon. I think you'd have a magical time. I can't wait to see the report.

SRP - I thought of that! What great pictures would be possible from a balloon. I'd have lots of fun trying to figure out where we were by identifying the landmarks.

Jody Blue - Thanks. It was very early on Saturday morning so there wasn't any traffic in town which made the chase easier.

Louise - Daily? Daily?? I guess if you live in a place that's perfect for ballooning, they come. Does it become old hat to see them flying around? I guess it would lose some of it's magic due to familiarity.
I think you need to do a chase.