Sunday, January 29, 2006

We're light

So I was surfing the net before I went to bed the other night and I ran across this site. Now, this kid is a high class balloonist. He comes from a family that has a big commericial operation in Holland and he flies expensive balloons in exotic locations. I was with the homebuilt crowd, the seat of the pants fliers. Hell when I started crewing for Topper, we didn't even have radios. Nonetheless, looking at the photos reminded me of my ballooning days.

I've been thinking about it ever since. It's not too late for me to get my ticket and become a commericial balloonist. I love everything about this sport. What's not to love about a flying machine with only 3 major controls to worry about -- altitude, temperature, and fuel. Of all the ways I've flown, I love ballooning the best. Not that I didn't love skydiving also, but it's a solitary sport. Balloons are so much easier to share with your friends and more fun for the spectators.

I was delighted to find a photo online of Topper -- "my balloon" -- although I didn't own it, I've flown it both as a passenger and a pilot. My first balloon ride was in Topper at the Glens Falls rally. It was a magical moment. That year they had 80 balloons all lifting off at the same time. For reasons too boring to list, my husband, my daughter and myself were all able to take the morning flight together with the owner and pilot, Bob Batchellor.

As we lifted off, the sky was littered with ballons for 360 degrees. Some were bumping together, kissing they call it, and all were at various altitudes all around us. Topper, being homebuilt and an odd shape, eventually went in one direction and the 79 others went in another but we had almost a two hour flight at mostly low altitude and traveled the longest distance of anyone. I didn't realize until much later, how unusual that is.

We landed with fuel to spare in a big yard in a little cul de sac. The whole neighborhood came outside, some still in their pajamas and bathrobes -- you fly really early in the morning -- and as was the custom in those days, we left the balloon standing and gave tether rides until the fuel ran out. No kid brave enough to get in the basket went away disappointed.

You don't see that so much anymore at the rallies. The new generation of balloonists don't want to put the wear on the top, and granted it does diminish the hours you're going to get out of the crown, but I always thought that was the most fun part of the flights. Well, except for when there's no landowner around when you land and you get to drink the champagne for breakfast yourself.

Anyway, Topper always gave tethers and as far as I know the new owner, Bob Sommer has continued the tradition and the balloon is still standing up proud after what has to be at least 20 years. It's obvious they put a new crown on it, but judging from the fade, the envelope is still original.

That balloon will live longer than I do. It's already outlived Bob and Dotty, rest their souls, the original owners that I crewed for and whatever fabric it was made of is probably indestrucible if weight is any indication. That is the heaviest balloon in the history of the sport which is part of the impetus to give tethers. Makes for plenty of helping hands on the deflation which was quite a job and it takes four people to lift into a van once you throw the bag into the basket.

I remember the first time I helped deflate a Cameron. I was amazed. It was just me and the pilot. It was like lifting air.


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