Have you ever gone on a hot air balloon ride? I’m a bit of a thrill-seeker who loves a new adventure and trying new things. So when I had the opportunity to go on my first hot air balloon ride, I jumped at the chance.
Hot air ballooning is a truly unique experience everyone should enjoy at least once in their life. It has been on my bucket list since high school. I enjoyed my first flight in a hot air balloon near Lancaster, Pennsylvania, with the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team, now Lancaster Balloon Rides. Our ride took place in early October.
Even though I had seen pictures and videos of this type of flight before, some things still surprised me about the experience. They might surprise you too.
DiscoverLancaster.com and the U.S. Hot Air Balloon Team, which is now Lancaster Balloon Rides, hosted our flight. All opinions are my own.
1. Hot Air Balloon History
I thought hot air balloons were a modern invention. I was wrong. Hot air balloons are one of the oldest forms of flight, dating back to the early 18th century. They became a popular form of entertainment for royals and nobles.
In the 19th century, hot air balloons were used for military purposes.
Today, hot air ballooning is primarily recreational, providing unique and breathtaking views of the world from above. If you’ve ever wanted to float through the sky like a bird, hot air ballooning is definitely for you!
2. Weather Contingent
I was surprised at how much the weather affected being able to go up in the balloon. After five flights were canceled due to weather, I finally was able to go up in the hot air balloon last October.
My flights were canceled because of thunderstorms, high temperatures, fog, high winds, and rain. So the weather plays a significant factor in whether you get to fly in a hot air balloon.
3. Inflating The Balloon
I expected to arrive, and the balloon would be there inflated and waiting for us to come aboard. I was wrong. We loaded a small bus and went out into a field. A truck with the basket and balloon followed the bus.
Once on site, they began connecting the balloon to the basket and then inflating it with a propane-powered fan.
It took longer to inflate the balloon than I would have guessed, and more people were involved in preparing it for our flight than I had envisioned. The pilot and three other people worked together to assemble and inflate the balloon.
4. Loading The Basket
Once the balloon was mostly inflated, it was time to load the basket. In my mind, a basket door would swing open, and we would walk into the basket, and then it would slowly start ascending into the air.
Wrong again! They laid the basket on its side and asked four of us to crawl into the basket and lay on our backs with our feet in loops and our hands holding leather handles.
Once we were in place, they inflated the balloon more and set the basket upright. The remaining passengers had to swing their legs over the basket to get in.
5. Space Inside The Balloon
When I watched balloon rides on TV, they were always private rides with just a few people. (The romantic proposal in the air.) Group rides are not as roomy. The basket was surprisingly small and somewhat cramped with 10 people plus the pilot.
Our wicker basket was divided into three sections: two rectangle sections for the passengers and then one end section for the pilot.
I did not realize how much space the pilot needed to fly the balloon, and I was shocked by how little space we had to move within the basket.
Pro Tip: If it is a special occasion, spring for the private flight.
6. Heat Inside The Balloon
Convection and density are the principles that make the hot air balloon float. Hot air rises because it is less dense than cold air. Heat is what makes the hot air balloon float. You need to have a burner under the balloon to get the heat.
When the burner is lit, the hot air inside the balloon expands, making it lighter than the cooler air outside. As the balloon rises, the pilot must constantly adjust the flame to maintain altitude.
The balloon rises until it reaches an altitude where the outside air has the same temperature as the inside of the balloon. At this point, the balloon stops rising and can float for hours, drifting with the wind. Once you reach the desired altitude, it’s time to enjoy the view and relax. As long as there’s hot air inside, the balloon will stay afloat.
The balloon will gradually descend back to earth once the burner is turned off and the hot air starts to cool.
I was right beside the pilot and right under the burner. I did not realize how close the burner would be to the passengers. At times the heat was very hot. Just something unexpected.
7. Quiet And Calm Air
As you go higher and higher, the burner is on, and it is loud inside the balloon. Once the burner is off and you float in the air, it is very serene and peaceful.
My husband and I were surprised at how quiet it was in the sky. The wind was very gentle, and I felt a sense of freedom and exhilaration as we floated. The whole experience is calm and peaceful.
8. View From Above
I knew we would be able to see for miles from a higher elevation, but I had no clue how far our vision would extend as we ascended. Almost a mile above the ground, we could see for miles in every direction and even saw other states. The views from above as you look down are stunning.
9. The Pilot’s Job
It took a lot of effort to keep the balloon in flight — I was surprised by how much work it was!
Not only did the pilot have to worry about the latitude and longitude of the balloon, but also had to keep the air hot, turn the burner off and on, keep everyone in the balloon safe, answer questions, and point out areas of interest below. Plus, he had to communicate with the ground crew to let them know the vicinity of where he was going to land.
I didn’t realize that a hot air balloon pilot had to follow the same rules as an airplane pilot. If an area is closed to planes, it is also closed for hot air balloons.
Our pilot, Jake Frame, was terrific and did a fantastic job. But wow… it was a lot of work.
When you take off, the pilot does not know precisely where he plans to land. It all depends on the wind, temperature of the air, weight in the basket, and other factors. He might have an idea of where he would like to land, but unlike an airplane that files a flight plan of which airport they are flying to, a hot air pilot just has a general area in mind.
The landing is a bit different than I expected. I thought we would land in the middle of an open field, but that wasn’t the case. We landed on a country road. The pilot said it was easier for the ground crew to help pack everything up when the balloon landed on the road. Also, he didn’t have to worry about landing on private property.
At first, the basket and balloon took up most of the road, but the ground crew quickly pushed us to the side with the balloon behind us as it started to deflate, filling one lane. Traffic was then able to pass in the opposite lane.
Once we were safely on the ground, we were helped out of the basket and could watch or help with the deflation, cleanup, and folding of the balloon.
It amazed me that the huge balloon could be folded and fit into a canvas bag. Both the balloon and the basket fit into a small trailer.
11. The Excitement!
While riding in a hot air balloon was very exciting, I was surprised by the excitement of bystanders as we landed and the balloon was being deflated. People came running out of their homes, cars stopped, and passengers got out to watch and cheer as we landed. They stayed to watch the deflation and cleanup.
If you’re looking for an adventure that will take your breath away, consider a hot air balloon ride. You’ll be surprised at how gentle and peaceful the experience is — not to mention how stunning the views are from high above. Whether you’re a first-time adventurer or someone who loves to push the envelope, hot air ballooning is sure to please.
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