Back in 2011, I had my first opportunity to ride in a hot-air balloon. My siblings, in-laws, and I were helping our mom check activities off her bucket-list, and this one topped it. Mom had wanted to fly in a hot-air balloon ever since she saw the 1956 movie, “Around The World in 80 Days.” Plus, at 81 years old, I honestly think she believed this hot-air balloon ride was her best, and perhaps last, chance of escaping our family.
Literally putting the “hot air” in hot-air balloon.
Driving out into the rural farmland of Upstate New York, we found a “balloonist” alone in a field waiting for us while simultaneously disappointing his parents. Behind him lay his deflated hot-air balloon, slowly suffocating about a quarter-acre of grass beneath its mylar envelope. He greeted us warmly and immediately asked for two favors: 1.) Only refer to him as “Captain,” and 2.) Pay upfront, in cash.
With the finances taken care of, the captain enlisted our help to hold tether ropes while he cranked up the butane burner above the basket. The balloon
quickly eventually inflated and soon began dragging us along the ground towards a nearby barbed-wire fence and imminent tetanus, if not certain death.
Lighter-than-air aircraft is the only way to fly.
We somehow managed to steady the basket long enough for my mom to climb aboard. And, after her first trip, a couple of us joined her in the tiny basket. Floating 200-feet in the air, the view is amazing–everything below you seems…smaller. Also, it’s weirdly quiet up there. And you look at the world quite differently. You can see so much further than someone standing on the ground, unless that person is 200-feet tall. But, if that’s the case, you’ve got bigger problems.
I remember thinking, “This is what fish must feel like!”
In a hot-air balloon, the air itself takes on a tangible feeling. You feel the currents moving you. And because you’re being carried with the currents, there’s no sensation of wind—you are the wind. Calmly drifting through the troposphere is a real contrast to today’s harried airline experience. After this experience, I’d say that the hot-air balloon was easily the most enjoyable form of flight. Though, to be honest, I haven’t given psychedelics a fair shot yet.
Why aren’t there more airships in the skies today?
Dirigibles, zeppelins, and blimps, are far greener, quieter, and more flexible than today’s fossil fueled airplanes. So why aren’t there more lighter-than-air conveyances floating around? Is it because the big airlines bought them only to bury them? Is it due to collusion and price-fixing by Boeing and AirBus? Is it that jet fuel is so profitable for oil companies? Or is it because airplanes are about five times faster?
Oh, it’s that? The five times faster thing? Riiiiight, that makes sense. The Hindenburg* bursting into flames probably wasn’t helping, either.
*The Hindenburg was first designed to use helium (an inert gas), but it exploded because it was filled with hydrogen (a highly flammable gas). At the time, the US held a monopoly on helium, and feared its military uses in the hands of other countries, so Germany couldn’t get any. Today’s Airlander10 (which is used by OceanSky Cruises) is filled with helium, runs on electricity, runs silently, and can take off and land anywhere because it doesn’t require an airport.