Sunday, September 14, 2008

Hot Air Balloon Trip - 13 September 2008

Yesterday myself and my wife spent the evening floating around the Meath / Navan area in a hot air balloon. A pretty cool way to spend an evening.

We got a gift token for the trip last September but the weather has been so bad the past year that it was only yesterday we got to go. On the day you are due to go you ring their information
line to hear a message to say whether or not the weather is good enough to fly. We were just lucky to get the weather yesterday as Friday wasn't good and today was terrible. They only fly in very good conditions - light wind, dry and no cloud.

So we drove down to Trim and we got collected by the pilot and his partner. From there we got transported to the launch field along with the eight other passengers. I was surprised that many people would fit in the balloon at one time but I didn't expect the basket to be as big as it was. The good thing about the trip is that they get you involved in every part. We all helped to unfold the balloon (envelope is the correct name) and it is massive. Then we had to lift down the basket from the truck and it is really heavy. Reassuringly heavy I suppose because it feels really sturdy. The next stage was filling the balloon with air. For this they get you to direct big fans into the balloon opening. It gets a bit toasty in this position as you can see from the second picture.

All of a sudden the pilot yells GET IN THE BASKET and a big scramble ensues as the
basket starts to move around. The thing that really struck me about the trip is how smooth the flight is. The basket doesn't shake or move at all and is totally level the entire time. A friend asked earlier in the week how they steer while in the air and I know the answer now - you don't. Basically the wind takes you and the pilot just hopes to find a suitable landing area before running out of fuel.

I'm not sure exactly how high we were but I think it was about 600 feet. It was a nice height as it gives you a great view of the area without things getting too small. Also you would be amazed at how sound travels. You can hear everything so clearly - dogs barking, children playing and car horns beeping. I think I g
ot some decent pictures of the area although I'm sure any professionals reading won't think so.

Next up is the landing (in Navan), which was great fun. The balloon drops pretty fast and we hit the ground then bounce back up in the air. We bounce up and down twice more before landing precariously teetering between topolling over and landing normally. Apparently it
is fairly normal to topall over and nothing to worrry about but I think we were all relived when the balloon settled down normally. The pilot's partner who had been following us in a van got permission from the farmer to enter the field and collect us. I'd hate to be in a situation where you land in a farmers field who gets upset, we did take a few big chunks out of the ground. The last part is packing up the balloon and it gets done surprisingly fast. The pilot has 19 years experience and has us working in perfect harmony to get the balloon folded. Then we have to lift the basket back onto the truck and we're all back off to Trim to enjoy a few glasses of champagne.

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