When most people think of flying, they think of planes. Well, I’m here to tell you about what it’s like to be the pilot of a hot air balloon – even more thrilling and memorable, some may argue, than the experience of being up in a plane. You may have never travelled in a balloon full stop, and curiously wonder what that would be like. Let me inspire and carry you on a journey – for even as a passenger, you are still taking the same flight as me.
I’m usually up in the sky twice a day, once at dawn and then again three or four hours before dusk. I can’t remember the last time I took a late night and a late morning trip, but there we go. The wind tends to be calmest at these times; there’s no point embarking on a pleasant flight with a handful of strangers, only to find them yelping into the great expanse if mother nature decides to deal us a harsh and sudden wind change. It ruins their time and makes it considerably more stressful for me – not because I can’t handle any emergencies, but for the simple fact that I want my passengers to enjoy themselves. In all seriousness, I’m trained to watch out for the weather; a keen eye as well as an ear for the news can usually spot any forthcoming signs of disturbance, at which point I will cancel a flight. It’s tedious and puts everyone out, but safety should always come first, definitely in this day and age. Most passengers I’ve had usually found it was worth the wait of a re-book, and their feedback has nearly always been positive.
Before each flight, the balloon must be prepared properly. This includes the envelope of the balloon being fully inflated – a spectacle that every passenger is welcome to watch. First the envelope is laid flat, and what is called an inflator fan – situated by the neck of the balloon – fills it with air. When this is halfway complete, the basket is secured to the envelope – and the ground – with the burner set in position. The burner itself can only operate once the balloon is half filled with air, and once this is done, the envelope fills up completely with air much faster. It is at this point that I will ask my passengers to get into the basket and make sure all the weight is evenly balanced and distributed. Then either myself or a colleague will detach all the ropes that connect the basket to the ground, and off we go!
Usually, flights last about an hour, and towards the end I have to be on the lookout for a safe place to land. Landing is typically never easy, and jolts you about somewhat. For this reason, I must lower the balloon at a very gradual rate and at a 45 degree angle to the ground, to make sure that the basket can lose speed and therefore stop faster. We will always end up horizontal on landing, but there are plenty of ropes and rails for passengers to cling onto.
The feeling of weightlessness that many describe while being up in the air has never left me; neither has the thrill or the freedom of being in a giant balloon. Similarly, the views are wondrous and all-encompassing. When you’re in a plane, you’re limited by the direction your window faces, but a balloon offers a 360 perspective. It’s why I do the job I do, and I am fuelled with a passion for delivering this unforgettable experience to as many people as possible.
Author Bio: Hannah has been hot air ballooning ever since she can remember and now works for Wickers World as part of the ballooning crew. For more information, visit http://www.wickersworld.co.uk.