Some travels are shorter than others (very short) but still are lots of fun. David Bobel, from Rochester, Indiana, is a FAA licensed hot air balloon pilot with over thirty years of experience. He and his wife Mina spend their winters in Florida, and David generously donated a flight as a raffle prize to support our local Red Cross parade float. Regular donations are presumed to be donated for disasters, so we needed to fund the float separately. As I had sold the most raffle tickets, David generously gave me a ride. Bob, another volunteer who had helped David in the past, also went along.
Those balloons look so light and delicate, but they are strong and heavy. The lower nylon can’t be ripped by hand even if cut. You would rip your hand first. Just the fabric part of the balloon weighs two hundred pounds.
We met around 6:30 a.m. to drive to the take-off point. A hot air balloon rises because of the difference in temperature between the air in the balloon and the outside air, so it is best to fly early in the morning.
First, David inserted a small light into a balloon and let it fly while timing it for three minutes and watching it with his compass. By doing so, he was able to gauge wind direction and speed. As the lighted balloon rose into the sky, first it went west and then, as it got higher, shifted back to the east southeast when upper winds caught it.
However, Cape Coral experienced patchy fog this morning, and FAA rules prohibit flying unless there is three miles visibility. We waited anxiously, hoping the fog would burn off before it became too warm to fly. It did, and David launched a black wind test balloon, more visible in the daylight.
After the balloon was stretched out beyond the basket, two of us held the lower edges while a fan blew in cold air gradually inflating it. Then David lit his propane burner blowing in hot air. The balloon quickly inflated the rest of the way and pulled the basket upright. Everyone held the basket down as David and then Bob and I got in. We were off, up, up and away.
We could easily see Pine Island in the far distance as our shadow showed below us in the morning sun. It is a quiet and peaceful ride until the pilot turns on the propane burner for a few seconds to give us a little more lift. Then it is a noisy but still peaceful ride.
Cape Coral has over four hundred miles of canals which add interest to the checkerboard pattern of the streets. It was even more interesting to see our reflection in the water below. And fortunately, there are still many vacant lots in the northern part of the city which makes it an easy place to land.
Do you think you would like to take a ride? David is in Florida in the winter and Indiana in the summer. He will be at the Balloon Festival in Albuquerque in October. His phone number is 574-BALLOON. And if you search for him on You Tube, you can see him take off in Albuquerque’s 2011 festival.