Floating on air.
It's still practically night when we get to the field to launch the balloon," Nicholas says. As he helps his father unload the equipment needed to make a successful flight over New Mexico, Nicholas thinks of drifting peacefully among the clouds.
Ready for Takeoff
Like most dangerous sports, work and safety come first when ballooning. "Before we can even unload, we fill a little balloon with helium and let it go," Nicholas explains. That's called a pie ball. You watch where it goes to decide which direction and how hard the wind is blowing."
If the skies are safe, it's time to set up the basket, check all the equipment, and inflate the big balloon.
"We turn on inflator fans to fill the balloon with air," Nicholas says. "When it's plump enough, we turn on flaming burners to heat the air." The toasty air causes the balloon to rise gracefully off the ground.
According to Nicholas, the whole process-checking the wind, unpacking the equipment, and filling the balloon-takes thirty minutes or less. It's not a bad wait at all," he says, "especially considering the firm that follows."
Up, Up, and Away
Nicholas' dad, Ron, says that most balloonists feel a knot of anticipation in their stomach as the ground crew sets the enormous balloon free.
"Even if you've done it a hundred times," Ron says, "that feeling is the same ... that sense of adventure."
But ballooning is nothing new to Nicholas. He took his first flight, safely nestled in his mother's arms, when he was just six weeks old. At six months of age, Nicholas flew in the basket without being held. Nicholas' mother says, "His first word wasn't `mommy' or daddy.' It was balloon."'
Ask Nicholas today what the best part of hot air ballooning is, and he'll say, "Going up."
In as little as fifteen minutes, Nicholas and his dad climb a breathtaking 2,500 feet.
"Everyone thinks it's scary, but it's not," Nicholas says. "Even my grandmother, who's afraid of heights, went up. After two hours, she didn't want to come down."
As the lofty air currents playfully swirl against the balloon, the balloonists get a sky-high view of the earth below.
"The cars on the ground look like Micro Machines," Nicholas says. "Everything is just real small. You can also see movements, and you figure they are probably animals or people riding their bikes. But you're up so high, you really can't tell what it is that's moving."
And, of course, there are sights to s right there in the air. Nicholas says, "I've seen sandhill cranes a snow geese, even eagles and hawks. Sometimes they'll come up and circle the balloon. I guess they're curious. I really like seeing the birds."
"I'm too young to pilot officially," Nicholas says. "But sometimes I do get to fly with my dad's help.
"You can't really control where you go; the winds take you where you're going to go," Nicholas remarks. "But you can control going up and down," he continues. "Turn the burners up, and you go up. Let air out of the balloon, and you start to descend." And that, says Nicholas, is the second best part of hot-air ballooning. "I like going down-fast!
Nicholas admits it's not all fun, however. "Sometimes we get caught in thermals (swirling bursts of air). If there are other balloons around us, we wind up doing circles around one another. That can be scary because some thermals can throw you straight to the ground."
But the young balloonist is quick to point out, "There are fewer accidents in ballooning than there are when people just walk around on the street."
And, he says with a smile, "Flying is a lot more fun."
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|Title Annotation:||hot air ballooning|
|Author:||Halls, Kelly Milner|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1996|
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