Posted: Aug 6, 2012 6:51 AM by Angela Douglas - Q2 News
Updated: Aug 6, 2012 7:05 AM
BILLINGS - For generations, hot air balloons have captured the attention and imagination of people of all ages.
"I tell people we're sailors of the sky," explained Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally President Dennis Waldron. "Wherever the wind goes is where we go."
As they glide effortlessly through the sky, hot air balloons hold a mystical type quality that captures the attention of those down below.
However, before the balloons can lift off, there's quite a bit of prep work and set-up to be done by the pilot and chase crew. The wicker basket must be assembled and the balloon needs to be unrolled and inflated. Of course, hot air balloons stay afloat with hot air from an open flame, but it's wind that inflates it.
Considering the average balloon is 100,000 cubic feet, It's pretty impressive how quickly the large mass of nylon fabric takes shape with the help of a giant fan.
Finally, it's time for the fire. As our pilot, Chris Hlebechuk, shoots flames into the balloon, the extreme heat causes the aircraft to slowly rise.
Once the balloon is vertical, it's time to load up. Hlebechuk checks his equipment one last time, then we lift off!
"We're flying!" I shrieked.
Soon we're soaring over the Magic City, taking in the beautiful view from one of the most peaceful forms of air travel.
"It's just the freedom of flight," said Waldron. "It's just quiet. It's peaceful."
Relaxing and enjoying the ride is a luxury for passengers on a hot air balloon, but the pilot is constantly monitoring the wind and weather.
"It's just reading what the winds are doing, and I find that a challenge. I like that," explained Hlebechuk. "You guys might have seen me look over the side and spit? I'm always trying to read what those winds are doing. There's every so often that I get to take a breath and go 'Yeah this is pretty cool!'"
Pretty cool? That might be an understatement. How about surreal? Or indescribable?
Flying in a hot air balloon has been on my bucket list since I was a young child. Like many people, I grew up seeing them in the air and always wanted to go for a ride. So, to finally to be able to take a ride was a pretty amazing experience. The most difficult thing to wrap my head around was the fact that we were thousands of feet above the ground, suspended in only a basket. Other than that, I soaked up the one-hour trip and enjoyed the view.
This was one high-flying adventure that did not disappoint.