Non-Auto Biography: Up, Up And Away In My Beautiful Balloon

Thanks to my daughter’s birthday wish, I got to fulfill one of mine too and experience a new for me but very old  form of transportation. She’d mentioned wanting to go up in a hot air balloon for some years, so 2023 it was, for her 43rd. This shows the balloon being heated up by the propane burners and beginning to rise. In a minute or two later we and six others clambered into the wicker basket on a clear and crisp Central Oregon morning.

Thanks to stronger winds than usual once aloft, we went further than this experienced pilot had ever gone before on one of these one-hour flights. Far enough to land at an airport, no less. Which took some skillful navigation, which is of course not exactly easy when you’re totally at the mercy of the winds.

It was almost exactly 240 years earlier that the Montgolfier brothers took to the air above Paris in the first manned hot air balloon. It’s hard to imagine what a paradigm-changing experience these first balloon flights must have been. Finally man takes to the skies. And only a few days later the first hydrogen balloon flight Tok place, which allowed vastly greater distances. It wasn’t long before intrepid balloonists took off from Paris or London and would finally come down somewhere in rural eastern Germany or such. Once can only imagine the shock and surprise the locals who first saw them arrive must have felt. Of course there were many accidents and fatalities along the way, but the lure of flying was to great to stop others from taking to the sky.

I read a wonderful book about the history of ballooning a few years back “Falling Upwards – How We Took To The Air; An Unconventional History of Ballooning“. I highly recommend it. And it gave me the urge to ascend.

This is how the balloon looked after it was first laid out on an athletic playing field in Redmond, Oregon.

It then got “inflated” with cold air by a large blower, in order that the propane burners can then be turned on.

Once it got heated enough and started straining against its restraining ropes. we climbed in and lifted off, in serene quiet and ever so gently. That’s the sports compound from where we took off. Snow-capped Mt. Jefferson and Mt. Hood can be seen in the distance.

Those are the two burners. The pilot turned them on repeatedly to maintain altitude as the hot air cooled in the cool air.

The gently breeze at ground level was coming from west-northwest, but once we got up to cruise altitude (a couple of thousand feet) the wind was coming straight from the north and at about 30 mph. That was quite a bit stronger than usual. Of course one doesn’t have any sensation of wind, as the balloon is moving at the same speed.

My daughter was loving it.

And so was I.

We were moving right along, heading straight for Bend, some 30 miles due south. I asked the pilot if this was a typical destination; he said no, that this is the furthest he’d ever gone on one of these one-hour trips, thanks to the 30 mph wind at the higher elevation. And he does these trips all the time.

I heard the pilot tell the ground crew to head down Hwy. 97 to Bend. I asked where he was thinking of touching down. He said: the Bend Airport. Really? The Bend Airport is a small general aviation airport, but it was clearly to the east of us.

But as he released some hot air and we descended the gentle ground-level western breeze now came in effect again, and sure enough, we started veering easterly to the airport (above).

He then radioed the airport to let them know we were incoming. We crossed the main runway with just some ten feet of clearance, and then…

…touched down just off to the side of one of the connecting taxiways. I was pretty impressed that he was able to bring it right on target like that by skillfully using the two different wind directions. The pilot warned us that we would likely tip over at impact, and sure enough, but no harm done. We climbed out and watched them fold up the balloon and stow it and the basket on a trailer behind his pickup. And then we all clambered into the pickup cab and covered bed for the ride home.

It was a highly memorable ride. What’s next; sky diving?