Balloon ride over Warwickshire
byon 7th May 2012 at 04:12 PM (582 Views)
Hanne recieved a present of a voucher for a hot air balloon ride for two. We tried to use it last year on holiday in the West Country but the weather was not suitable so we transferred to Warwickshire. The weather has to be just right (calm with low wind speed, in the right direction, high enough cloud base) and each time we booked a date we had to phone the night before to see if the forecast was good for the following day. At our third attempt the message was that the flight was on and would start from Stratford-upon-Avon race course. With a light wind from the East this flight would take us towards Worcestershire.
In the morning the temperature was around 5C with high cloud clearing slowly. Assembly at the race course was 6:30am and we arrived slightly early so the crew were just unpacking the balloon and wicker basket.
We were given a safety briefing mostly concerned with the brace position for landing, no smoking, no mobile phones, no loose items. I'd done some browsing on the internet so I was expecting all this and had decided just to take my small pair of binoculars (RSPB Rambler 8x25) and my point and shoot camera (Lumix TZ7), wear a fleece and a down jacket, and hiking boots as the ground at take-off and landing were both wet.
We had a full load of passengers (12) and a pilot in the basket. The latter is divided into 5 compartments, a central one for the pilot and the gas cylinders, and 2 smaller compartments at each end, each holding 3 people snugly. The basket comes up to chest height and has padding and ropes to grip for the landing. There's no possibility of moving round so once in the basket you see whatever is visible from where you are. The pilot can swing the basket around using vents in the balloon so it is not really limiting.
Although there is no physical steering gear on the balloon, the wind tends to be in different directions at different altitudes so there is some degree of control possible. On the day we flew, ascending took us to the south west and descending to the west. This also meant our trajectory on landing would be a curve rather than a straight line. I was impressed by the skills of the pilot.
After stretching out the balloon, attaching it to the basket, and attaching the basket to a Landy, the inflation of the balloon began using two large fans and cold air.
Once the balloon had expanded enough that the burner could be turned on without danger to the fabric (a large commercial balloon costs around £50,000) then the burner was lit and the inflation went rapidly until the basket was pulled upright.
We then divided into our threes and climbed in. More gas and we were quickly airborn and being carried by the wind; the chill factor then disappears as we our speed relative to the wind decreased.
Continued in Part 2