Sunday, March 15, 2009

Living in a Flight Path


The long, low sound of rushing air greeted Kate as she stepped out of the RV one morning. She looked toward the west and found what she initially thought was the source of the sound.

However, something didn't fit. The sound seemed to be coming from a source closer to her.

Again, the long rush of air sounded. This time Kate looked behind the RV and saw this beautiful balloon.

But she knew she hadn't found the source until she walked to the front of the RV. There it was. Coming in for the landing just beyond the park was one of the "cactus balloons," as we had dubbed them. We had seen a few balloons from the Hot Air Balloons Company with the large cactus emblem flying in the area of the RV Park.

Minutes later, the pilot brought his balloon down in the Pioneer Village adjacent to the RV Park. The landing appeared to have been perfect.

After a few moments passed, the pilot began to deflate the balloon. The morning flight was complete.


This morning, the sequence was reversed. Ten balloons were launched from the Pioneer Village.

The launch was very orderly, although there was some bumping of balloons. Since the pilot cannot steer the balloon, he or she, immediately after lift off, is already looking for places to land in the event of an emergency.

Unlike driving a car with the immediate response to depressing the gas pedal or the brake, balloon pilots have to operate the appropriate controls about 30 seconds before they want to rise or before they want to stop rising.

Most hot air balloons use a wicker basket for the passenger compartment. Wicker works very well because it is sturdy, flexible and relatively lightweight. The flexibility helps with balloon landings, absorbing some of the energy.

Of course, even the most experienced pilot doesn't have complete control over the balloon's flight path. So, unlike flying an airplane, hot air balloon piloting is largely improvised, moment to moment.

As we watched the balloons float off to the desert beyond the Park, we noticed that some rose to a relatively high altitude while others floated inches above saguaro cacti and evergreen trees as though their objective was to spot a coyote or jackrabbit.

After noting what hot air balloon pilots cannot control, we find it impressive to observe how well they control the liftoff, flight, and landing.

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