Up, up and away in Alabama

Published: Wednesday, March 5, 2014 at 10:05 AM.

Your trip starts by choosing location and letting off a helium balloon, which will fly in the same direction as your hot air balloon, so Rachel can plan the longest possible flight. Since there are no moving parts on a balloon except two propane burners, you then get the pleasure of assisting with the labor required to lift off.

You are asked to hold open the throat of the balloon, or envelope, while the basket lays horizontal and the crew cold packs, or inflates, the balloon using a fan. Next, Tommy fires the first, of 18 million BTU burners. The envelope weighs 225 pounds and a propane-loaded basket weighs 450 pounds. When it inflates around you, it is a breathtaking process. Upright, his balloon, “Hope Floats,” stands 70 feet tall.

Next, you’re off the ground before you remember to look down! A gauge inside the basket shows whether you are ascending or descending at 200 feet per minute. The pilot controls this by making burns, which sends livestock scattering. Tommy can spin the basket, but it is ultimately at the mercy of Mother Nature, making every ride different. Low-contour flying allows for the thrill of skimming treetops. Landing is bouncy, but is always on soft sod. Following flight, you and the crew roll up the envelope.

Tommy says that fighter pilots, who have ballooned with him, were “tickled,” and my fellow passenger said it was “tied for the most fun thing ever.” Finally, there is a champagne peace offering honoring the Montgolfier brothers, inventors of the first hot air balloon.

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