APOD: Balloon Launch

Hot-air ballooning is a beautiful way to experience flight. Lofted up on nothing more than hot air, you are sitting still in a basket below a canopy of colors, watching the world move by below you. The occasional WHOMPF of the balloonist firing propane gas into the envelope is the only noise you’ll hear as you glide above the landscape, free in the open air.

A red balloon readying for launch at Oshkosh 2013.

A red balloon readying for launch at Oshkosh 2013.

Ballooning must take patience and diligence. Your only control is altitude: burn gas to rise, open the envelope to let out air and sink. But despite the simplicity of the controls ballooning takes knowledge and skill. Getting aloft takes hours of unrolling the envelope, attaching the baskets, blowing air into the balloon and getting upright before loading passengers and floating away. Once aloft, you are at the mercy of the winds, climbing and descending through different layers to ‘navigate’ to a safe landing zone. You must be very careful not to land in high-tension power lines or lakes. You must communicate with your ground crew to coordinate a safe recovery after the flight. I am sure that my basic understanding of this work leaves out many key details; the art of ballooning probably holds many secrets to which I am not privy.

But it also holds many rewards. Floating slowly above the treeline as the sun rises, drifting silently through the sky as the world wakes up, being detached from the ground but not hearing the noise of engines and radios; ballooning is an ethereal form of flight, and one that every pilot should experience at least once.


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