Flying With Capt. Jack

by Douglas Kiang

It was a cold, cold morning in North Carolina when we dragged ourselves out of bed at 5:30 in order to drive out to meet Capt. Jack from "Carolina Balloon AdVentures". It had always been a dream of ours to ascend in a hot air balloon, and float swiftly and silently on the wind. Little did we know you had to get up this early! Hot air balloonists fly at dawn and dusk, when the weather is calmer.
We met Jack and his ground crew at a balloon port located behind a local winery called "The Stoney Knoll Winery". It was exciting being the only ones awake and alert on such a sleepy Saturday morning, particularly since we knew that in just minutes we would be floating silently through the skies over the countryside.

Well, not minutes, exactly. As we soon found out, setting up a hot air balloon for flight involves some work! The balloon basket is actually a large wicker basket to which is attached a large burner unit. Jack hauled the basket out of the back of his trailer, hooked up the burner, then tipped the entire basket assembly over by climbing into the basket, hanging on the top, and swinging it back and forth until it fell to the ground.

Hot air balloons are made of Dacron. As Jack was setting up the basket, the ground crew stretched the hot air balloon out on the ground, and blew cold air into it with a large fan. When the balloon was inflated, Jack lit the burner and heated the air inside the balloon. As the balloon inflated, his assistants held the mouth of the balloon open and out of the way of the flames. It was amazing how large the balloon was on the inside! The background for this page is a photo I took of the inside of the hot air balloon as it was inflating.

When the balloon was fully inflated, we climbed into the basket. It seemed much smaller now, with all of us in it! Imagine your average dining room table, flipped upside down. You, the pilot, and three other people all have to fit between the legs of the table. As we rose into the air, I got a very anxious feeling in my stomach as I looked over the edge. There wasn't much to hold on to; just the wicker wall of the basket, which seemed to get smaller and smaller, the higher we got. I felt very exposed, and kept a tight grip on the railing. Seeing the countryside from 750 feet was a beautiful sight indeed! As the sun rose in the east, we could see lights coming on in the houses below, and we could see a few tiny cars making their way up long, winding country roads.

This is what the ground looked like from about 1000 feet. As we got higher, I got a little less nervous, and was able to relax and enjoy the view. It is a very peaceful feeling to be floating along in a balloon. You hardly hear the sound of the wind, since you are traveling with the wind. Every so often the roar of the burner would shatter the silence; riding in a hot air balloon isn't totally quiet, as I had originally thought! Still, the view was magnificent.

After drifting for an hour or so, we started to look for landing spots. Since hot air balloons must travel with the wind, you can't really control where you go. You just have to get into the balloon and see where you are when you get there. Jack's ground crew was following us the entire time in the truck, spotting us from the ground. It is quiet enough up there that you can hear people shouting from the ground, so as we approached a large field, we were able to shout to the people waiting for us that it looked as if the winds were changing, and that we were going to pass right over them! Scraping the trees, we came down in a parking lot on the other side of a church. Jack's ground crew was there to tether the balloon and keep it from floating away again, as we skidded and bounced to a stop.

As the hot air in the balloon cooled, the balloon began to slowly deflate. The hot air spilled out the bottom, and the basket was detached from the balloon. We all worked on laying the balloon fabric flat on the concrete and smoothing it out. Finally, when the balloon was flat and completely deflated, it was rolled up and loaded back onto the trailer.

Mary and I received our honorary ballooning certificates, took pictures by the balloon, and then we all headed back to winery for glasses of champagne, and snacks. It wasn't even 8:30 yet, we had just received our first ride in a hot air balloon, and we were already vowing to return and do it again! Up, up, and away!

Carolina Balloon AdVentures
Hot Air Balloon Rides
3028 Black Diamond Lane
East Bend, NC 27018

(336) 699-3332
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