Monday, October 31, 2005

Balloons Highlight World Wonders

Hot air balloons are often used to highlight a photo of an area as they add beauty and a sense of wonder, making everything seem larger than life. Even places dramatic enough to inspire Walt Disney use balloons to attract attention to themselves. Consider this Reuters photo of a famous German castle which is competing in a contest to be named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World:

Balloons flying in Schwangau"Two hot air balloons pass the southern Bavarian castle Neuschwanstein during a sunny autumn day in Schwangau, about 75 miles south of Munich, October 28, 2005. The castle is one of six German and 200 worldwide candidates for The New Seven Wonders of the World awards. (Michaela Rehle/Reuters)"

The balloons add a sense of drama and uniqueness to the scene. Promoters and advertisers have long understood this, leading to a host of balloon sponsorships, balloons in advertising, and tourist brochures and maps featuring hot air balloons as a way of making the destination seem like an exciting place. Taking a balloon ride in Germany here would certainly be exciting!

It's good to see the modern wonder of ballooning being used to showcase the Wonders of the World. For balloons, one of our wonders are the Special Shape Balloons flying at balloon festivals and grand openings.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Young Balloon Pilots Making Mark

There's a new generation of balloon pilots coming of age, and we're going to take a look at several of them over the next few weeks. First up is Colin Graham of Roanoke, Virginia.

Now a seasoned 22 years old, Colin was a BFA Junior Balloonist who graduated to being a commercial balloon pilot owning his own balloon ride company, Endeavor Ballooning. He's flown in 17 states, made lots of friends in ballooning, and earned a living for several years flying.

The local CBS TV station recently made a video for their "Beyond the Forecast" weather series, starring Colin as "one of the youngest commercial balloon operators in the world." Appearing young, confident, and professional, he tells his tale while flying the camera crew. There are some very interesting graphics that show how a balloon rises and descends to change direction that will actually help the clueless to finally get it. This is tied into how these same winds also steer clouds and storms. Clever, and Colin does a good job representing ballooning. Officially about "air parcel buoyancy and steering currents" the balloon flight steals the show. Overall a very positive piece.

It's exciting to see fresh faces bringing new enthusiasm into ballooning. You can learn more about ballooning youth programs, and ideas for teaching balloons in schools, and if you'd like to join Colin and learn to fly, here's how.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dropping Hang Gliders From Balloons

balloon dropping hang glider
Dan Buchanan's photos of carrying hang gliders aloft under a balloon and launching the hang glider in a free-fall drop from the balloon. This was done at a Santa Rosa, California balloon festival. First flight was solo, then a tandem flight.

Includes a dramatic picture of Dan weightless in free-fall from the balloon, while the hang glider spews smoke from the rear. The shot must be from the balloon, and it looks like they're a long way up.

Another site, by John Heiney, discusses a Balloon Drop Seminar for hang gliders. This took place in Perris, California and included 4 hang gliding pilots.

Then consider the case of Judy Leden who was lifted to 12,000 feet over Dover and flew across the English Channel landing at Calais. That wasn't high enough, so she broke the world hang gliding altitude record, being released from a balloon at 41,307 feet and experiencing a wind chill factor of -87C in the process.

Look here for more record setting flights and other extreme balloon adventures.

Balloon Chasing Video

Here's a nice little video with commentary called Funny the Vlog: Up, Up and Away! about a woman who spots a few balloons flying in California and spontaneously goes chasing them with her camcorder. Along the way whe works in a discussion (& balloon photos) of the time she took a balloon ride. Includes the thoughts of one of those silent balloon chasers that we see, but never meet:
"This being a flat area dotted by cities, but with a lot of bare space inbetween (alas, now being filled up), it's a great place for hot air balloons and frequently on a calm day you'll look up in the sky and see one or more floating overhead. I don't know what it is--the mystique or something. But I've always loved watching hot air balloons."
This Video-Logging technique, or vlog with free hosting could be a clever sales tool to show off balloon rides, balloon safety techniques, or other good ballooning ideas.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Indian Balloonists help Pakistan Quake Victims

The Balloon Club of India is offering hot air balloon rides to benefit victims of the massive earthquake in Pakistan. Compassionate Indians can take a flight from Damdama Lake near Sohna in Haryana, India.

Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, honorary secretary of the Balloon Club of India says flights will be held daily in the morning. They are in contact with the Adventure Foundation of Pakistan, which handles ballooning in Pakistan. All proceeds will be sent to the Pakistan earthquake victims.

Tin Can Balloon Ornament

The British company Tin Can Models produces these cool miniature balloons in two sizes from brand name beer and soda cans. Choose from 6.5 inches and 9 inch models. Larger sizes may be available by special order.

Currently offered in your favorite brand: Coca-cola, Pepsi, Schweppes, Tiger Beer, Carlsberg Beer (shown), and Heineken.

These sleek numbers would make good pilot gifts or Christmas tree ornaments. Prices are in Pounds but should work out between $13 to $20 depending on size. Order directly from Tin Can Models. You can find more model balloons and balloon gift ideas here.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Getting Good Inflight Photos

Sharp inflight photos are used by balloon ride operators to convey the astonishing position a flight actually puts people in. There's no way for the passengers to get a shot anything like this. Some companies provide these pictures as a value added service, and many sell them after the flight. Much in demand, they make a nice little profit center - there's nothing better to show the folks back home just what you did.

So, how's it done? Several methods are used: some pilots have a telescoping pole the camera is mounted on. Others mount a small camera on a gooseneck attached to the burner frame. This can be adjusted inflight to point wherever is desired. The best photos seem to come from suspending the camera from the balloon by small cords and using a remote control to activate the shutter. See the inflight balloon photo above.

Malcolm White, of Irish Balloon Flights, describes this system as having D-rings sewn onto the balloon's load tapes about 20 feet up, from which are hung 2 elastic cords, tied together at the bottom with loops 4 inches apart. On the loops are spring clips which attach to tie-wraps on the camera strap fittings. This gives the ideal angle for the shot, and keeps the camera far enough from the basket for a dramatic photo. A thin black nylon thread is used from the bottom of the cords to the basket to recover the camera before landing. The thread is essentially invisible.

You can see the full size photo, one from another angle, or additional pictures of balloons of all sorts.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Ballooning Trip to Sicily

Here's your chance to explore Sicily, Italy by balloon. Mario Di Stefano of the Bella Via Balloon company is leading 2 more trips in the spring of 2006 to his homeland. Based out of his hometown of Grotte, you'll be guided around the island by local family members.

Of course, the cool part of the trip will be hot air balloon flights featuring Mario as the pilot. Travellers will take turns flying and crewing. Last year's trip generated a lot of great photos. Arrangements have been made to launch directly from the hotel grounds.

Trip dates are March 23 to April 3, 2006 for the first flights, and April 6 to 18th for the second group. If you're interested in some exotic balloon flying and seeing Sicily from a unique local perspective, you'll find trip details, prices, and references at Ballooning In Sicily website.

Looking for something a little different? Here's a spot for other balloon travel ideas.

A First Balloon Ride

Here's a blog entry detailing a typical experience of a first balloon ride at a small balloon festival. The event is the High Hopes Balloon Festival in Milford, NH. Held in late June, it benefits the High Hopes charity providing special wishes to sick children.

The narrator does a great job describing what goes on throughout the flight, and every step is illustrated with clear photos. Her favorite part was the reflection of the balloon in a pond flown over.

Ironically the first photo includes her sister unpacking the balloon, and later they fly right over the sister's house. It's yellow with a large yard and picnic table. Would have made a nice place to land.

Clicking on the photos brings up a larger version. Check out the kaleidoscopic view looking up into the balloon. The pilot is Dan Morin of Manchester, NH. He and his wife Sue offer hot air balloon rides in New Hampshire year round. Here are more balloon ride stories and a list of balloon festivals around the country, organized by region.

Live Balloon Flight Concert for Peace

An enterprising group of balloonists, artists, and musicians staged a live concert from a giant tie-dyed hot air balloon at the recent Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Led by artist and pilot Jonathan Wolfe, musicians Seth & Todd played a live rock concert from the balloon which used giant speakers on the chase vehicles to broadcast the music.

Here's a photo of them taking off with Seth & Jacob playing the wireless rock show from the sky, while proudly flying the peace-flower banner for the huge Fiesta crowd below.

For additional photos, or to learn more about tie-dying on a dramatic scale, see the SkyDyes website. Also, see additional pictures of hot air balloons of all types and the official Albuquerque website. There were a total of 3 full-sized tied-dyed hot air balloons flying as part of the balloon fiesta. Approximately 700 balloons launched as part of the event.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What makes balloon flight special?

Setting out on a journey by hot air balloon is entering a realm of joy, wonder, and awe. It's quiet, peaceful, and gentle. Punctuated by the roar of the burner, you lift off and glide over the world.

Moving slowly across the landscape, you can observe everything from a new perspective, not just because you are above, but because movement is slow enough to be on a human scale. The full richness of detail is absorbed. Like walking through a neighborhood you usually drive, each new view is a revelation.

Magic is the word most often used to describe flying in a balloon. Magic in how it seems to move without effort. The excitement inspired by the giant colorful balloons is magical. The wondrous responses and good people met along the way are known as balloon magic. Defying ordinary description, magic explains it all.

An astonishing sense of oneness with the atmosphere, exploring its complexity stands at contrast with a feeling of being motionless while the earth moves below you. It's not like you go up high, it's like the world gets further away.

People who ordinarily fear heights are invariably surprised to discover a flight in a balloon doesn't bother them. "Oh. This isn't what I expected!" is uttered so often it's a cliche. With no direct reference to connect the balloon to the earth, no sense of motion, and a secure basket wall around you, it's just not like being on a roof or ladder. People soon relax, enjoy the flight, and forget aobut height.

When you're offered a chance to fly, say "yes" without hesitating. A few minutes later, you'll know why.