Lee and I were reminiscing the other day about the time we went hot air ballooning a few years ago. We’d just driven past the field we took off from, and it reminded me of this post, which I originally wrote on my old blog. I thought perhaps some newer readers might be interested in it? We occasionally used to be part of the ground crew for this privately owned balloon, piloted by an acquaintance of Lee’s, and bright and early one Sunday morning it was our turn to fly in it. It was one of the best aviation experiences I’ve ever had.
This morning I got to experience a form of aviation I’ve not tried before: hot air ballooning. It meant getting up insanely early for a Sunday, but it was absolutely worth it. We set the alarm for 6.30am and had our Sunday croissants standing up in the kitchen to save time!
It was a beautiful morning for it – the only real clouds in the sky were aeroplane contrails and there was virtually no wind at ground level. All was beautifully still and quiet as we drove to the farm from which we’d be launching, a thin layer of mist hovering above the fields at no more than 10ft. It reminded me that when you have something nice to get up for (i.e. not a horrid commute to work), it’s actually really nice to get up at sunrise.
As we knew from having crewed previously, the process of getting the balloon out of the trailer and all rigged up and inflated is quite time-consuming. The heavy basket must be taken from the trailer, have the burners attached and then be laid on its side ready to receive the main balloon bit – called an envelope. The gas canisters need to be checked to ensure there’s enough fuel, and then the envelope gets laid out ready to be inflated.
The envelope is initially inflated using a surprisingly small fan. We helped to pull it out to allow the air to flow inside more easily.
Inside, it’s absolutely vast – easily big enough that you could hold a market or something in there! This is a small balloon, big enough for just four people – but there are some that carry 20 or more people.
Here’s another picture so that you can get a sense of the scale. Lee is helping hold the mouth of the balloon open, and this was just before the burners are fired into the balloon to heat the air up.
Once the air inside the balloon warms up it starts to rise, and the balloon lifts itself upright. At this point we clambered aboard!
Take-off was so subtle one barely notices it. As pilots of powered aircraft we’re used to putting full power on for take-off, making it really noisy, so it was really nice to experience a silent take-off! Here’s a good view of the farm we took off from, and our shadow!
Even quite high up, it was surprisingly warm thanks to the burners. It was only when the pilot was putting extra heat on that it was uncomfortably warm on the head, though.
It was amazing to be able to skim over the top of trees and make out every detail on the ground. Even talk to people on the ground and hear dogs barking, sheep baaing and donkeys making whatever noise it is that donkeys make. We saw lots of deer running through the fields as well.
The views were absolutely breathtaking, and being out in the open air and not behind the canopy of an aeroplane or glider meant that you could appreciate them even more. We could see the Malvern Hills and beyond that to the Black Mountains – it was so clear. In the direction in the photo below there was still some thin mist yet to burn off in the morning sun.
The other great thing about the views from a balloon as opposed to a light aircraft was that they’re 360 degrees and uninterrupted. I took this picture with the panoramic function on my iPhone.
Here’s one of us! That forward-facing camera on the iPhone isn’t brilliant quality unfortunately.
Coming in low looking for somewhere to land, we saw this amazing field of ridge and furrow. I see this from the aeroplane all the time, as there’s loads of it round here, but this was the best view I’ve ever had of it!
We eventually came in to land in a village, where you could see people coming into their gardens to look at us and take photographs.
We landed in a playing field, where people were walking their dogs and a game of football was about to commence. The pilots kept the balloon standing and Lee and one of the pilots hopped out and pulled us over to the gate to make it easier to get the balloon back in the trailer.
Hot air ballooning completely exceeded my expectations, even as a fairly seasoned aviator. It was just so tranquil, sedate, quiet. It’s a bit of a tough sport to be involved in because it’s expensive, difficult to get the right weather conditions and you need a crew, but I can totally see why people do it and it’s definitely something I’d recommend everyone try at least once! We’ll be crewing next time but I’m really glad I got to try it and I’m sure we’ll do it again whenever we can afford it. Mind well and truly blown!