Sunday, October 10, 2010

A day in the life of a hot air balloon.

Click any image for larger version


My second year at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!
Moon And Small Light(Pics taken on different days.)

I took Amtrak from LA to Albuquerque, arriving Friday, October 1. Up at 4am. Yes, 4am. Showered, caffeinated, dressed, and out the door by 5am. Karen, Kevin and I head for the mess tent, where the pilots and crew get fed breakfast and discuss the weather. Out on the launch field no later than 6:30, to find our spot, and get ready to unpack. The sun isn't up yet, and I'm bouncing around with several hundred other balloon teams, getting ready for the day's excitement. 

The excitement really starts when the first pilot balloon goes up. It's an itty bitty thing, with a bright light on it, launched from the area of the pilots' briefing. We all watch it go up, as it will tell us how the winds blow. Any ground wind and most balloons won't launch. That's why balloons launch at dawn, when the ground winds are calm, before the sun heats everything up and makes for exciting times on the ground.

Sunrise First Balloons

Small time out to admire the sunrise. One of the benefits of getting up at 0-dark-thirty is getting to watch the dawn.

Pepsi And The American Flag

Balloons At Sunrise
As the sun comes up, the national anthem is played, and a balloon is launched carrying the American flag. Every day it's a different balloon who has the honor. This day, I caught the Pepsi can, for a friend who's a die-hard Pepsi drinker.

The balloons that launched first on Sunday went up and then south at a good clip.  We were all a bit disappointed, as we weren't going to launch our balloon again. Then someone noticed that HEY! the balloons higher up were coming north again. The winds above a certain height above ground were blowing south, and winds several hundred feet above that were blowing north. Balloon launch time!

The Setup

If you ever want to teach anybody about wind layers, come to a balloon festival. Not one where there are just a few balloons. You need to be able to see what dozens, and in our case, hundreds of balloons do. For example:

On Saturday, the day of the Mass Ascension (everybody who can is supposed to launch), we didn't. Why? All the winds were heading south, and the balloons would come down somewhere in the city of Albuquerque. Probably downtown. I'm crew for a ten-story bembel, or wine pitcher, and there isn't anywhere to land a ten-story anything in downtown Albuquerque. When a balloon lands, it not only lands on its basket, but the balloon must completely deflate. Ten stories of deflated balloon takes up a lot of space.

I know this because inflating a ten-story balloon takes up a lot of space. Because on Sunday, that's what we did.
Consultation With Zebras First the consultations with the referees, also known as "Zebras", for some rather obvious reasons. No one of them wears the same patterns, just like the four-legged zebras.
Hookin' Up Fuel Lines

Unload the basket,
hook up the fuel lines.

Tip Basket Over

Tip the basket over, ready to hook up balloon.

Attach Balloon To Basket

Hook up the balloon
straighten the lines.

Start Unfolding

Start unfolding!

And Unfolding

And unfolding...

And More Unfolding

And more unfolding.

Starting Inflation

Sometimes starting inflation
while still unfolding.

Unfolded Balloon

We have achieved
Flat Balloon.

Air Reaching Top

The excitement is not in
watching the bembel inflate,
but also seeing the
balloons all around.

Attaching The Top

Attaching the crown to the body of the balloon.

Crown Rope

Crown rope keeps
the ballon from
blowing around.

Blowing Up Balloon

See those fans?
They really "blow up"

Almost Full

Holding open the mouth,
so the air goes in.
She's almost ready for...

Light It Up

Lighin' her up!
Heat the air...

Air Hot Balloon Rises

And up she goes!


She's tethered to the back of the truck until everything and everybody is ready for flight.

Getting Ready To Launch

You can't see the zebra in this shot,
but she's 'way out there
making sure there's no other
balloons above ours.

Balloon Sponsor

Now, only people are holding her down. Only People Holding It Down

And Shes Off

And she's off!

This is a good idea of the size of the balloon.

I started this with the intent of putting it all one one page. Didn't work. So, this continues on The Chase

Return to top  ^^


bandit, Albuquerque said...

Standing on the field before the balloons inflate, you can see for miles, Then all around you, leviathans start to grow out of the ground with great roars of fans and burners. Your horizon goes from miles to feet in a few minutes. Something deeply visceral that will stick with you for a lifetime.

Every balloon has a big cloth "vent plug" (not sure of the exact term). You can see it on this balloon - it is on the top. There are many special shapes, including "Marybell", a cow for a dairy. Geuss where her vent hole is ... (snicker) ...

Lin Daniel said...

And then you can see for miles again as the balloons stream into the distance, taking your heart with them.

Your words are fabulous. May I quote them?

I got hooked in 2009 with the first mass ascension. And the first chase, where I felt like I was in a Galileo thermometer.

Airabelle is the Creamland Dairy Cow. Being as the only shots of her I've gotten are from the back end...

I think you're referring to the crown. Airabelle may have vents in more than one place, but to be an effective way to vent air, the crown needs to be as high on the balloon as possible. Now I'm going to have to go over and ask them.

You need to come out. You need to come out at freaking 0-dark-30 like the rest of us. I'll be with the Possmann Bembel. We're usually at e-12.