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NAVAL HOT-AIR BALLOON TEAM TO GIVE LIFT TO FOLKS AT SEABEE SUMMERFEST.

Byline: Victoria Giraud

Hot-air ballooning isn't only for civilians. The Navy has been flying airships since 1915, when they were used for anti-submarine warfare.

These days, the Navy uses its balloons and its own Hot Air Balloon Team for public relations and recruiting events, such as the free tethered balloon rides offered this weekend at the Port Hueneme Seabee Summerfest.

Lt. Kim Yager, who heads the Balloon Team, and her three-person squad will take visitors for 3- to 5-minute rides, as long as the weather cooperates with steady wind conditions.

A career naval aviator, Yager normally flies transports - the T-39 Sabreliner and SW-3 Metroliner. She was intrigued enough with hot-air ballooning to volunteer for the Balloon Team as extra duty.

That meant she had to be qualified by the Federal Aviation Administration and needed at least 20 hours of flight experience with the balloon. Yager was used to seeing the world through a cockpit, but a balloon's eye view was different.

``It's unobstructed, not through canopy or window,'' she said. ``It's just you and the sky. There's also silence, no noise other than the burner.''

China Lake Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division, where Yager is based, presents its own challenges.

``Every day you face something different,'' Yager said. ``High winds are the big challenge. It's not an ideal spot, but 360 days of the year it's clear.''

The team is trained to deal with the winds, which present a problem when landing. ``We get as close to the ground as possible, level the balloon off and deflate the balloon,'' Yager said, adding that the action minimizes the distance the balloon may fall and be dragged.

The Summerfest balloon ride, which will take riders 70 feet into the air, promises to be comfortable and fun since the balloon will be tethered to the ground.

Plans for the free weekend include tours of the USS Stethem, one of the Navy's newest guided-missile destroyers and a hands-on display designed for children of Seabee construction - a timber tower, bridge and sea hut - and a dive tank with Seabee divers. There also will be tugboat rides, a carnival, an arts and crafts show, live music, basketball, roller hockey and sand volleyball tournaments, a karaoke contest, a magic show and a car show.

The hot-air balloon, which travels with the team every weekend from March to October to a variety of events all over the United States, is made of rip-stop nylon. It's 70 feet high and holds 90,000 cubic feet of air. The double burners generate 30 million British thermal units (BTUs) per hour and the wicker passenger basket also holds three 15-gallon propane tanks and instruments.

Yager is a second-generation pilot (her father is a retired Naval aviator), and she is married to a Navy pilot. ``The Navy's done a great job keeping us in the same location.'' Her husband helps out with the team, but doesn't have the time to be a member.

``A lot of flying a balloon is by feel, unlike an airplane,'' Yager said. ``It's slow to respond. It takes from 7 to 10 seconds to respond to the burner.''

The Balloon Team has a trained chase crew that packs and unpacks the balloon, takes care of pre-flight assembly, fueling and minor equipment maintenance. Sometimes the chase crew has its own challenges even finding the balloon and its team, especially on a cross-country flight.

Yager described an exciting, 25-mile flight into the Sierra Mountain foothills that ended in the dark. It was three hours before the chase team found them in a little valley.

``After we were on the ground, we lost communication with the crew and they couldn't spot us.'' To get the radio to work, they climbed a hill and could then see the headlights of the crew truck. The radio worked and the team was able to give directions.

The Navy doesn't leave much to chance, however. The Balloon Team is prepared for emergencies. ``We're prepared with water and Power Bars, enough to get us through a night,'' Yager said.

THE FACTS

WHAT: Port Hueneme Seabee Summerfest.

WHERE: Port Hueneme Naval Construction Battalion Center, Pleasant Valley Gate, Ventura Road

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday

COST: Free to the public (carnival contests and sports competition charges vary).

INFORMATION: (805) 982-2057

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Photo

Photo: (color) The Navy's Hot Air Balloon Team will be at a Port Hueneme festival this weekend.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Daily News
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Aug 24, 1996
Words:746
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