Friday, 21 October 2016

Up, up and away...

Bren got a voucher for a balloon ride some time ago, and managed to get a clear day today, which is extremely fortunate as it's also her birthday.

She wasn't keen on driving down to Whitchurch, in Shropshire, so I cleared my diary and took her.

I took a couple of time lapse vids of the balloon being assembled and inflated...

video

video

The whole outfit arrived in a couple of Land Rovers, one of which had a large trailer on the back. They unpacked, fastened stuff together, fanned a load of cold air into the balloon envelope, gathered everyone around for a safety briefing, then lit the burners. As the balloon became more bouyant, it dragged it's gondola from a sideways position up towards vertical, and as it did so, the nimblest passengers scrambled up the footholds and into their places. The weight made it more stable for those less able to jump aboard. Bren was the first in. The balloon was also tethered to the two Land Rovers. Conditions were a little breezier than had been forecasted, but still just about ok to fly. The tethers were unhitched, and the balloon was airborne and away southwards, towards Hawkstone Park and The Wrekin, and Wem. The two vids show it all happening.

But wait!!!

Have you noticed in the second video, that there's a whole lot of nothing going on after the balloon goes up, and the Landies bugger off in pursuit? Just a load of scudding clouds!

Turns out one of the participants couldn't make it, and there was a space available if any of the spectators fancied it? A lot of foot shuffling and sky gazing took place, then I volunteered. Hence the unattended ipod sat in my car, taking pictures of nothing much until it's battery ran out.

I do not like heights. I see videos of russian chancers doing one armed pull-ups from vertiginous places and my toes curl. On the odd occasion where I've ended up looking down from a high place, such as the top of a tower block, or even in a lift, the awareness of the gulf beneath my feet is at the front of my mind. I've avoided flying for the last ten years or so, partly for ideological reasons, and partly because if a few hundred feet of empty space beneath me is scary, thirty thousand feet is slightly more so.

So I surprised myself by throwing my hat into this particular ring. Surprised Bren too, and I have to admit, for the first part of the flight, I was quietly shitting myself. If I remember rightly, there is a way of treating phobias that involves putting the subject/patient into a situation where they have to face whatever it is they fear. Immersion therapy? No. Flooding. The idea is that there is a link between the physical, and the emotional. The fear stricken phobic experiences a flood of adrenalin. This feeds back into the emotional fear response, which in turn makes the body produce more adrenalin. But after a while, the body stops producing adrenaline. It just does. It's hard wired into us that this happens, and the cycle is broken, allowing the phobic to form a different emotional relationship with the object of their fear.

And so it seems. After a while, I started to take an interest in more than just my immediate emotional state. We were heading more or less southwards at about 15mph. At times we were close to 1000 feet above the surrounding countryside. At other times we were much lower. We went over Hawkstone Park Golf Course. Ian Woosnam used to be the professional there. For all I know, he still is. We were low enough to exchange shouted comments with the golfers below. Livestock bolted in terror at the sight of our approach. Dogs barked. People pointed and waved and took photographs. We pointed and waved and took photographs right back.

Hot air balloons can climb to well in excess of 30,000 feet, but we'd all die. They sometimes contribute to crashes as drivers take their eyes off the road. It was warmer flying than it was on the ground. There is no wind. Well of course there is, but the balloon is traveling in exactly the same direction and at exactly the same speed, so the air is still. They cannot steer, but can be made to rotate by releasing air from the envelope through angled vents. It carries around 19 tonnes of warm air within, and the reason it ascends is because it displaces more than 19 tonnes of colder air. When it landed, it had to have the broad edge of the gondola leading, as it was certainly going to tip over when it landed with this much wind. If it landed narrow edge first, people in the top compartment would be catapulted out.

The flight should have lasted about an hour, but in the end, it went on for about 90 minutes. This was mainly due to difficulty in landing. The land beneath was almost entirely agricultural, but to put down in a field full of newly sown crops or terrified cattle would not be good. Things such as power lines and roads had to be taken into account. The pilot was obviously an experienced and conscientious operator, and he managed to find quite a few likely spots to put down, but each time, as we neared the ground, the wind would change direction and send us away from our target, and he would have to light the burners and try for somewhere further on.

Eventually we landed in a stubbly field just south of a place called Aston.


The basket touched down gently and smoothly, was dragged along briefly, then became airborne again. It touched down harder and tipped a bit, then lifted. This happened several more times, each slightly rougher than the last. Then finally we landed, got dragged along fr a bit then tipped onto our side before coming to a halt next to the rapidly deflating envelope. We had been organised inside the gondola so that bigger and heavier people would end up underneath smaller lighter people, and so I ended up horizontal, pulling hard on the hand ropes with Bren lying on top of me. We disembarked from the bottom up.

People took selfies, smoked and vaped, milled around. A farmer arrived shortly after. The pilot went off to meet him with a bottle of whiskey for his trouble. There was none. The farmer was happy to let us do whatever we needed to do. Then the Land Rovers arrived. We all mucked in packing the balloon up, and we all got into the Land Rovers and were driven back to our starting point. We'd flown about 19.2 miles. They'd driven about twenty seven.



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1 comment:

Pete said...

Excellent post on what sounds an excellent day out. The thought of doing that terrifies me.