I never like getting up early in the morning but today is different I have booked a hot air balloon ride and I’m required to be up at the crack of dawn to be at the centre for the launch. I travelled to the balloon centre driving while still dark and while the rest of England sleeps under a full moon. I eventually arrive at the Balloon centre and start to meet up with the other intrepid passengers for our flight.
The balloon centre is one of the best in the UK and needless to say I’m definitely a Virgin Balloonist today. The centre has a very good safety record and you can also imagine that being part of the Virgin group it is well funded the pilots are well trained and very good all round.
The flight consists of a safety brief and an outline of where today’s flight might take you as the balloon is very much in the hands of the prevailing wind. The skill of the pilot can make the difference by knowing that wind travels in different directions at different altitudes a skilled pilot can make the Hot Air Balloon travel in almost the direction he or she wants providing there is sufficient fuel to rise and lower the balloon.
The Hot air balloon is made up of three main components them being the basket, the burner and the envelope. This balloon holds quite a few people in the basket so it absolutely massive and you get to help out and unravel it. One of the great things about this sport is that you are invited to help out in getting the balloon launched and folded back up again when you land.
The weather for today was absolutely perfect the sun could be seen just making its appearance over the horizon and the temperature although a little chilly not too bad at all however this is at ground level. When the balloon gets up into the air it can be very chilly indeed. Most balloon companies provide very good information on what to wear and bring the main item being a woolly hat as you need to protect your head from the cold.
After the safety briefing and a good cup of tea the balloon team and pilot instruct you in how to roll out the balloon and help out with the start of the inflating. The balloons are pumped with cold air to start with to start to fill the envelope before the burner is used on its side to heat up the cold air inside the balloon.
Eventually the balance point is reached where the balloon goes from being on its side to being upright. The basket is tethered to the ground the basket to enable the so called easy access to it as you climb on board. The team and pilot judge how much burner is required to reach a point where the balloon is ready to lift off.
The balloon is then untied carefully by the ground crew and the burner is used in small bursts to bring the craft off the ground and rising slowly into the air. With a cheer we the passengers gasp as the ground slowly moves away from us as the burner goes off and we gently rise.
At this time of the morning there is not that much activity and you get to drift over the land in a very quiet peaceful manner as the world below wakes up from its slumber. Hot air Balloons are flown very early in the morning or just around sunset in the evening as this is the time that the air is most still across the land.
During the day there is too much thermal air movement and this can cause the balloon to be very unstable and is dangerous. We had an excellent flight and we were tracked across the land using GPS this helps the ground crew catch up with balloon when it lands.
Hot Air Balloons have an agreement with the national union of farmers for fees for landing on the land and that saves us from the farmers being unfriendly with us landing in the fields most of the time farmers are quite acceptable with us landing and most pilots always take a bottle of something to smooth the transaction.
Landing is the only part you get a little bit more apprehensive about as depending on fuel and the surrounding area sometimes you feel that you are going to land with a big bump and sometimes you’re not it’s down to the skill of the pilot.
Luckily for us we had a very good pilot that landed us upright and then pulled the inner cord that releases part of the envelope on top to let out the hot air and down comes the envelope. Everyone helps to fold up the envelope and the ground team arrive to take everyone back to the centre for a cup of tea and biscuits. Hot Air ballooning is a fantastic day out and I could recommend it to anyone who does not have a fear of heights.