There’s something about floating in a hot air balloon that whispers luxury and romance. Whether you’re taking your maiden flight as a bucket list adventure, or sharing a precious moment with someone special, the experience of drifting over 2,000 feet into the sky in a giant balloon is one to remember.
Did you know? The first version of passenger carrying hot air balloons was built by two French brothers, and the first flight was launched in 1783 in Paris.
My first hot air balloon ride was in Scottsdale, Arizona. I woke up at 5am and drove with my pilot from Rainbow Ryders, Inc. to look for the perfect spot to take off. We had to consider the direction of the wind, air currents, and open spaces to launch. After scouting a few areas, we settled on an empty field next to a donut shop.
Note: Most hot air balloon rides take place at sunrise or sunset, not just for the ambient lighting. During these times of the day the weather conditions are perfect, which means light winds and stable air that allow for a smooth flight.
Since we were carrying all the dismantled gear in the truck, we had to assemble the balloons first. The morning light was starting to emerge as we unwrapped the nylon balloons, hooked up the pipes, secured the basket, turned on the fans, and inflated a 120,000 cubic foot balloon. Next, we blasted propane, which made the balloon get off the ground. We quickly jumped into the gondola and held on tight as the balloon made a few shaky lifts and lands before it stabilized.
Finally, we were above ground and sailing smoothly, enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the Arizona landscapes. I saw the sunrise over Camelback Mountain, and flew over fields of giant cacti. The light reflecting off the sandy hills made for a beautiful backdrop. Many more balloons had popped up in the sky by then. In that moment, everything was calm and quiet. The only sound I could hear was that of the fuel firing into the balloon.
Did You Know? The world record for the highest flying hot air balloon was set by Vijaypat Singhania reaching 21,290 meters (69,852 feet) in 2005 in Mumbai, India.
After a relaxing 45-minute ride, it was time to land. Where you land depends a lot on which direction the wind is taking you. Ours was a bumpy but uneventful landing. Our chase vehicle was waiting to take us to the common grounds where we met up with other riders for a champagne toast for “soft winds and gentle landings.” It was a great experience to be involved hands-on in the entire hot air balloon flying process, rather than just being an observant passenger.
Safety Tip: It is important to have an experienced captain to maneuver the balloon and steer it away from trees, poles, and other obstructions, while also constantly fueling it to maintain elevation. Our guide also gave us instructions on proper take-off and landing techniques, so we didn’t injure ourselves.
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