May 21, 2012
The sun was barely up. Jim and I, dressed in our morning sweats, were finishing our blog. Jim said, “Let’s skip breakfast and go watch the balloonists take off.” In the park field, people were scattered about, laying their balloons on the ground.
The Freedom Flight and Ride began the previous night in town. The balloonists gathered on both sides of the street in Gallup, fired their propane burners to form a flaming arch for the motorcade of biking vets to ride through. That was the ride, which we missed. Now the flight part at the Red Rock Park grounds. (You can double-click any of these photos to enlarge them.)
Having never been to a balloon launch before, what struck me first was the number of people it takes to launch a balloon. Ken Ferguson’s crew put down a huge tarp, dragged out their balloon, and laid it out. Ken answers to Fergie.
As they tested their burner and began laying out their balloon, the sun was just touching the tops of the rocks.
As the balloon inflates, crew member Debra, assists the balloon in spreading and unfolding.
What soon resembled colorful, beached whales were sprouting up all over the field.
Balloonists congregate in clubs and have a working crew that assists the balloon owner/pilot. Crews worked swiftly, without much comment, but the propane burners filling the balloons could be heard all over the field. I video taped a partial launch that you can see and hear at this link:
Everywhere I turned, balloons began puffing up like giant marshmallows.
I got giddy with excitement and wanted to clap or shout each time another one became upright.
Up, up and away.
Soon dozens of them were flying as I watched, transfixed.
The heated balloon rises, but the wind dictates where it will fly.
Jim the technical person, wanted a blow-by-blow of what it takes to launch a balloon and attached himself to Fergie. He was very friendly, patient and informative.
The balloon is now full and is beginning to lift off the ground.
There she goes, hauling the gondola (basket) upright. Kind of taking on a life of her own.
Fergie’s balloon, named Itsa Touchie Subject, is upright; the flyers are climbing aboard, and off they go.
It may seem obvious, but it is important for the members to be able to recognize the balloon in the air for the chase team to spot and follow.
Balloons from a distance can look much alike. You must know your colors or you might chase the wrong balloon. Jim told me we were invited to ride in the vehicle with the chase crew.
At one point we were flying along this dirt road only to find ourselves fenced off. Debra, in the balloon van ahead of us, found and opened a gate. There are often two chase vehicles.
Brenda, our driver, re-routed and got stopped for a minute by wild horses crossing the road as we bumped along. But, she spotted the Itsa Touchie Subject just as it was about to land.
All hands steadied the basket while two people unloaded. Jim and I were invited to take their place for the second “hop.” I was bowled over by the generosity of this crew. Realize, not everyone can afford a balloon. A second-hand one, just the balloon, can cost upwards of $20,000. It is an expensive sport. Crew members participate so they can ride. They gave up their ride for us and Thank You is hardly adequate.
The balloon from inside the basket.
Fergie gave a couple of blasts of propane and in seconds we were floating upward and waving to the ground crew.
I spotted the herd of wild ponies we met earlier on the road.
Flying is sensuous, serene, beautiful.
The Freedom Flyers dotted the sky as we ascended to about 800 feet AGL. (Above Ground Level)
Part of the pilots job is to scout out a landing spot big enough for the balloon; hopefully near a road where the pick up van can get to you; and in a place un-fenced so no one has to heave an 800 pound or heavier basket over it.
A couple of planned bumps, and we were down. The pilot keeps the balloon inflated enough to give the spotter something to see. When he is positive he’s been found, he can let the air out in a very precise fashion.
Everyone but the pilot bails as the balloon loses air and drags the basket over on its side. The ground crew lays out the tarp in the path of the falling balloon. Sometimes it is a miss, as in this case. The wind is a wiley engine.
The basket end cords are held taut. A crew member pulls out the top so it doesn’t fold deeply inside the balloon.
The balloon is “milked”, lifting and stripping air out. Then crew members place velcro ties loosely about 3 feet apart.
Once it is secured and disconnected from the basket the lines are neatly tucked into the final fold.
The tied balloon is shouldered by half the crew, as others move the bag up three feet at a time so the balloon can be stuffed into its bag. The tarp too, is folded and stuffed in a separate bag. The balloon alone weighs about 300 pounds.
Then the basket is loaded into the van. The flight is over, but not the fun. Fergie referred to a ceremony that takes place after a flight. I’m just beginning to get acquainted with the crew and loving every minute of it. This wasn’t just a balloon ride. We were included in every aspect of the ballooning sport.
More tomorrow. In the mean time, if you’d like to look at a partial album where you can click on a slide show and see pictures full screen size, click the following link: