Aug 24, 2008

Everything I Ever Needed To Know About Life I Learned From Hot Air Ballooning

Well, maybe not everything but a few things. Which I shall share!

  1. The square metal frame that holds the burner up isn't really square.

  2. It IS a little bit rectangular and only fits onto the support poles one of two ways, and only one of those ways is the right way. The middle of its three eyelets always faces the side of the instrument cluster in the gondola, and the instrument cluster always goes into the trailer first so that the fill spigot of the propane bottles faces the door of the trailer thereby making it easy to fill the tanks when the trailer is backed up to the propane station.

    Lesson? If it doesn't fit easily in place then something's wrong. Don't force it, it'll work when you have all the bits in the right place.

  3. The "red line" isn't necessarily red.

  4. When inflating, make sure the red line and it's attendant twenty three (I think there's twenty three) cables are all clear and not tangled. Those twenty three lines each attach to the 'top' of the balloon, a big round sheet of nylon that covers the hole in the crown and lets the pilot dump hot air quickly by pulling the red line. When the envelope is fully inflated the pressure of the hot air wanting to rise holds the top firmly in place, and the red line lets the pilot pull it down. Tangled or knotted lines would make this difficult at best and dangerous overall.

    Lesson? Don't judge a line by it's colour, and don't underestimate it's importance in getting you safely to the ground.

  5. A city chase is a hell of a lot harder than a country chase.

  6. In the country there aren't a lot of roads to use, so following alongside the balloon isn't always made easier by roads that bend the wrong way, and you often end up driving down turn rows and people's long dirt driveways to recover the balloon and it's passengers. In a city there's lots more roads and you can stay a lot closer to the balloon but the landing spots are a lot harder to come by. When your pilot decides to land in a tiny apartment complex yard and not the huge park next to it you don't question his motives, you just calmly and carefully circle around and around the blocks until you manage to find the only way into the parking lot where he's landed.

    Lesson? Things look different from up there, and sometimes what you think is a good thing might not appear that way from a different vantage point.

  7. Don't kink the pyrometer cable.

  8. The pyrometer is just what it sounds like--a heat meter. It's got a sensor that sits up near the crown of the envelope to measure the inside air temp, and a long, thin line that runs all the way down to the throat of the balloon and into a little female connector. The readout sits in the gondola amongst the few instruments and has a very fragile and easily kinked cable with a male connector that has to be threaded up along one of the supports, slipped under two straps then threaded through a small nylon loop at the bottom of the skirt and thence through the air up to it's six-pin mate. All this can't be rushed because you're unspooling about ten feet of this fragile wire and if it breaks you might as well pack it all in. If you can't tell how hot the air and therefore the nylon envelope is during flight you might exceed it's operating temp and burst the whole works into flames*.

    Lesson? Don't kink your cable. Rushing doesn't help anyone, and might turn your envelope into a huge, short-lived torch.

  9. Don't leave the truck running.

  10. You may only be getting ten miles to the gallon driving along in little fits and starts but when it's idling in Park you're getting zero miles to the gallon. Also, don't stop on top of an overpass if the shoulder is wide enough for truck and trailer EVEN if it gives a marvelous vantage point because it makes the pilot and owner of said truck and trailer nervous.

    Lesson? Don't piss off the pilot, you're on his dime.

  11. Chasing is hard work.

  12. That's why even Jim with his decade plus of experience still makes mistakes and has to turn around sometime. I drove this last Saturday and did pretty well, with Gene keeping the balloon in view from the shotgun seat and operating the radio while I dodged traffic. I got underneath the balloon once, so that I was looking almost directly up and I could see into the hollow of the envelope while it rode by some hundreds of feet overhead. Not the usual way you look at a hot air balloon. VERY cool.

    Lesson? Keep your eyes open, because neat things abound and may pass so fast (overhead) that you'll only have one chance.

  13. After a landing the crown man hauls the envelope down longways when the top is pulled out.

  14. 88,000 cubic feet of hot air has a lot of lift and is hard to pull against even if you do weigh 230 pounds and have a nylon rope leading to the steel ring at the crown, but you pull for all your worth anyway. The trick is, when you're in a crowded area you also have to watch for tree branches. The envelope is only nylon and while each of those hundred or so panels can be easily replaced it's not cheap nor fast.

    Lesson? When you're working so hard you're afraid your guts are going to herniate all over the place you still need to make time to watch out for simple hazards. It's one thing to work hard, another to work hard and carefully.

  15. Drinking in the morning?

  16. After the Montgolfier brother's first manned hot air balloon was destroyed by ignorant farmers they decided to carry along champagne on each subsequent flight to share with and placate landowners when they came down out of the sky unexpectedly and landed in their fields. That ritual survives intact today, and there probably isn't a balloonist alive who doesn't pop a cork (or unscrew a cap) on a bottle of bubbly after each flight. It's ritual, and one doesn't go against ritual.

    Lesson? It's always five o'clock somewhere.

* Caveat: In the interest of not spreading TOO MUCH disinformation, the envelope won't actually burst into flames. You WILL, however, seriously weaken the material which can lead to a lot of other problems that you don't want happening to the thing that's holding you up in the air.

Also, many huge thanx to my favourite slacker Joan for this neat article!


Joan of Argghh! said...

Tell me you saw this article on the joys of backyard blimps.


It's so nice when you write.

Irrelephant said...

Joan, I'd not seen it, but thank you sooo much! Very cool! The one drawback to all of this prattling is that hot air ballooning and zeppelining and all that good stuff is still very much a wealthy man's hobby. I think if perhaps I was somehow suddenly wealthy (or at least very well off) I'd be much more into the ownership/flying bit. For now I'm very content to live vicariously and save up brownie points with David for another flight.

And Joan? Statements like that, and the feelings behind it, are what brings me back. *big hugs*

Mona Buonanotte said...

Now I have that Fifth Dimensions song in my head..."Would you like to flyyyy in my beautifuuuuul ballooooon..."

Maggie said...

we have lots of ballooners here. I love seeing them out of my window first thing in the morning. I keep wishing they would land in my backyard - I want champagne at 6 am. Maybe I should paint a target in the lawn?

Clowncar said...

Like Gordo's beekeeping, I could read your writing about the minutia of ballooning all day long.

And I'm guessing "Keep your eyes open, because neat things abound" is a rule you apply to most of your waking moments.

meno said...

What about "Things filled with hot air tend to go up, at least for a while."

Nancy Dancehall said...

Beautiful, as always. I could happily live in your head.

Irrelephant said...

Mona, it could be worse! It could be Brittney...

Maggie, try anything vaguely sexual, that always gets their attention. Paint the target then lie in it nekkid, you're sure to have numerous visitors bearing champagne!

CC, I'm pleased to hear that, because a LOT of my writing is about the minutae, isn't it? *lol* And yes, if I were to have a mission statement that'd certainly appear in it.

Tha's a good one, meno! I promise next time I assemble a balloon-life-lessons post I'll include that one, with the proper references back to ya. *g*

Nancy, you're more than welcome to, but you'll have to move a lot of the old furniture out of the way, and it's going to need one hell of a dusting. I haven't been able to see out any of the windows in years.