This was going to be a great day to journey over the earth in a hot air balloon. I was glad to be flying with such a charming company from the Orlando area. At 6:05 a.m. a white weather balloon was sent up to check the winds from the hotel’s parking lot. The small white balloon headed upward and outward against the black morning sky in the northeast direction, giving the flight crew a good idea as to where to launch from and where to land.
We were told that it was essential to pick the launch and landing locations before a flight began. The winds were in our favor, we were going to fly over Disney World.
After all the introductions were made between flight crew, chase crew and passengers, we loaded up in the vans with baskets attached, and headed off in the opposite direction of the small white weather balloon. We drove over to the launch site, traveling in a caravan of 7 vehicles. By 6:15 we arrived at a church parking lot.
Before I could set my camera up again, I missed my second shot – the launch of a small black balloon used to check the winds at the launch site. At this time a few more vehicles with flight crews and passengers appeared. Everyone was busy; baskets were unloaded, two-way radios given out to the pilots and the chase crews, envelopes were unfolded, and the fans and heaters set up and humming. Preflight checks and preparations in motion, I milled about among the other passengers, chatting and taking as many ground photos in the semi-darkness as possible before our safety briefing security bollards.
A few minutes later, the company owner, Mr. Edwards gave us a safety briefing. He told us what we should be aware of during our flight and our responsibility as passengers. The most important items were to be aware of power lines and to alert the pilot of such, and to bend your knees slightly and hold on during landings. And of course, “do not get off the ride until it has come to a complete stop”. Now where have I heard that line before?
Soon we were fully briefed and assigned to a pilot. I looked up to see the first few hot air balloons take to the clear sky; the impression was exciting. By now there was enough light to take pictures and I snapped away. Upon close inspection, the sheer size of the balloons (envelopes) and the solid sternness of the riding baskets were spectacular and fabulous, even as they were laid about on the ground getting prepped and readied to go up.
In no time flat our balloon was full of hot air and the basket was turned upright for boarding and flight. As we climbed on board and got situated, our pilot, Bob, explained to us that we would be flying over the park at 1,000 feet and if we were to pass over the Animal Kingdom we would be required to fly at 2,000 feet. Finally, we are in the air in our round Dolphin decorated, purple and aqua blue hot air balloon. We learn from Bob that all hot air balloons are numbered and regulated by the FCC. The fuel required for this trip is only 20 gallons, but 40 are on hand (just in case).
It is now 7 a.m. between talking to us and steering, Bob keep close radio contact with the chase crew as well as the other pilots. Ever so often we can hear the comments via the radio from the hunters camped in the fields below us. I must mention it was very peaceful and quiet at this altitude, and warm enough for me to take off my goose-down jacket.
Of course the flight was absolutely everything I did not expect. Quiet, warm and a “window on the World” like no other I have ever seen before. No wonder hot air ballooning is becoming the most popular event to be at to celebrate occasions, such as special meetings, birthdays, rendezvous and weddings. What atmosphere! Bob steered us over Disney World with great ease. You talk about a beautiful, breathtaking view of the world…Disney World in its glory from 1,000 feet. The balloon changed direction ever so slightly, as I snapped photos of the trailing balloons mirrored in the lakes below for a double exposure.
A few good to know facts, we learned from our pilot, centered on how important steering was, especially with wind changes. He told us during the flight that racing balloons follow a non-changing constant path of travel, that this envelope was new and made in South Dakota. And that we were very lucky that the winds made it possible for us to be flying over Disney World. Mother Nature had smiled on our day. This flight plan does not happen often. He told us to look below and take note that there were no round silos below us. He said they were removed because concerned parties in the community wanted to make sure the cows got a square meal. We also learned that he was a firefighter, and his wife, who is a school teacher will be qualifying for her hot air balloon pilot’s license soon.
Ahead of our balloon we could see the others en route to their respective landing sites. Cheerful as ever, Bob found the perfect landing site for us somewhere along US 27 and 192. As we got closer, I saw signs for Polk County and Orange Lake Country Club. I also saw the caravans with the chase crew driving in the direction of our pending landing area, in what one would call moderate haste, to meet us on touch down. As we got closer, people were waving and sending greetings of Good Morning to us and we did the same back to them.
It was exactly 8 a.m. My knees were bent and I was hanging on, prepared to meet the beautiful horizon below. Bob gently guided the balloon down to a sweet soft patch. Not one bump on the ground, he put that basket down like a feather on a pillow. Once out of the basket we all become part of the post-flight ground chase crew. We held the basket down from the outside, in order for each passenger to disembark. The pilot stayed at the helm, the last one to leave the basket. The chase crew quickly moved about walking out, folding and packing the envelope and carried the basket to the van. It was at that time I noticed the silver horseshoe attached to the side of Bob’s basket.