My mom had a big birthday coming up and had a special request. She wanted me, my sister and her to go on a hot air balloon ride. My sister and I had never done this, didn’t know anything about this and had some work to do but we pulled it off!
Where: Rancho Murieta
Distance: About 10 miles
Date: April 17, 2016
We stayed in Rancho Cordova the night before our adventure, getting up really early to make sure we were at our correct starting point at 0600 at Rancho Murieta near the Equestrian Center. We were the first people there and questions ourselves whether we were in the right spot but the locked gate had a picture of a hot air balloon on it, so we figured he had it right. Soon others started arriving, then the pickups with the balloons arrived like a strike team of fire engines, telling us to follow them. They unlocked the gate and we drove up on a small hill where there was a parking area. After checking us in, Tim, who was to be our pilot, gave us a safety briefing. We could watch the crew getting the balloons ready as he talked with us.
We had 2 hot air balloons, one holding 4 passengers and we were in the larger one with 7 passengers, plus each had a pilot. They started running some large fans that started to inflate the balloons and Tim told us we could walk around and take pictures, keeping away from the fans and the flame area.
I had better introduce you to my partners in crime on this caper. My sister Cindy is on the left and I am sure you remember my mom, Rosemary, from previous blogs.
A loud noise started up and I could see that there was now some flame involved as they started heating up the air in the balloon.
Soon those hot air balloons started to tilt upright, then they were ready!
I watched the other balloon lift off gracefully then it was our turn. Up we lifted from the ground, slowly gaining elevation. I’m not so sure my sister was that thrilled at this point.
We slowly climbed higher and higher.
I looked up to see the beautifully colored balloon’s pattern.
I watched our pilot’s hands as they increased the gas to heat up the air in the balloon.
Time for a selfie!
What a view!
We flew over a vineyard and I could see a coyote running along the side until it went off into the grass. We flew over a large pond filled with waterfowl. Some of them flew and some just stood where they were.
Mom was having fun!
The green rolling foothills were beyond words. At times, there was not a sound as we drifted over the top of them
I watched the cows below as the were moving as if on a mission to get somewhere.
Watching the other balloon, which was quite a ways away, was very nice.
Our pilot pointed out our intended landing spot where the pickups were parked. And that is exactly where he landed perfectly. We bent our knees and braced ourselves against the people next to us, holding on to the grips inside the balloon and as our pilot said, making sure we didn’t have any parts outside of the balloon. We skidded for about 5 feet when we landed and my side of the balloon came off of the ground about 1 foot or so, but the crew was holding our basket to keep it down. It was not a bouncy landing at all, very smooth, but this is not always the case. Our total flight was 1 hour 5 minutes.
As the balloon deflated, it created beautiful designs in its pattern. The crew took hold of a rope and guided the deflating balloon down on the tarps that they had laid on the ground.
As the crew were putting away the balloon, Tim laid down woven bamboo mats and shared the history of modern day hot air ballooning.
Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier were the inventors of the Montgolfière-style hot air balloon globe aérostatique. The brothers succeeded in launching the first piloted ascent of the predecessor of today’s hot air balloon in 1783. The brothers, 2 of 16 children, were born into a family of paper manufacturers in France.
Joseph was the brother who first started thinking about building machines as early as 1782 when he observed laundry drying over a fire incidentally form pockets that billowed upwards. He pondered the possibility of an air assault using troops lifted by the same force that was lifting the embers from the fire. He believed that the smoke contained a special gas, which he called Montgolfier Gas, with a special property he called levity. Joseph then built a box-like chamber, about 3 ft by 3 ft by 4 ft out of very thin wood, covering the sides and top with lightweight taffeta cloth. He crumpled and lit some paper under the bottom of the box. The chamber quickly lifted off its stand and hit the ceiling. Joseph then recruited his brother to balloon building by writing, “Get in a supply of taffeta and of cordage, quickly, and you will see one of the most astonishing sights in the world.” The two brothers then built a similar device, scaled up by three. The lifting force was so great that they lost control of their craft on its very first test flight on 14 December 1782. The device floated over a mile and was destroyed after landing by the “indiscretion” of passersby.
The brothers decided to make a public demonstration of a balloon to establish their claim to its invention. They constructed a globe-shaped balloon of sackcloth with three thin layers of paper inside. The envelope could contain nearly 28,000 cubic feet of air and weighed 500 lbs. It was constructed of four pieces (the dome and three lateral bands) and held together by 1,800 buttons. A reinforcing fish net of cord covered the outside of the envelope.
The next test was in September but there was some concern about the effects of flight into the upper atmosphere on living creatures. The king proposed to launch two convicted criminals, but it is most likely that the inventors decided to send a sheep, a duck, and a rooster in the balloon first.
On 4 June 1783, they flew this craft as their first public demonstration at Annonay in front of a group of dignitaries. This flight covered 1.2 miles and lasted 10 minutes, attaining an estimated altitude of 5,200-6,600 ft.
On the September 19, 1783, the Aérostat Réveillon was flown with the first living beings in a basket attached to the balloon: a sheep called Montauciel (“Climb-to-the-sky”), a duck and a rooster. The sheep was believed to have a reasonable approximation of human physiology. The duck was expected to be unharmed by being lifted aloft. It was included as a control for effects created by the aircraft rather than the altitude. The rooster was included as a further control as it was a bird that did not fly at high altitudes. This demonstration was performed before a crowd at the royal palace in Versailles, before King Louis XVI of France and Queen Marie Antoinette. The flight lasted about eight minutes, covered two miles and reached an altitude of about 1,500 feet. The craft landed safely after flying.
On November 21,1783, the first free flight by humans was made by Pilâtre, together with an army officer. The flight began in the western outskirts of Paris and they flew about 3,000 feet above Paris for a distance of 5.5 miles for 25 minutes. Enough fuel remained on board at the end of the flight to have allowed the balloon to fly four to five times as far. However, burning embers from the fire were scorching the balloon fabric and had to be daubed out with sponges.
It is said that early balloonists carried a bucket of water and sponges with them to throw at the balloon fabric when it would catch fire. It is also said that after exhausting those sponges, a bottle of champagne was used to extinquish the flames, thus today’s tradition of popping a cork after the flight and the blessing.
He then filled glasses with French Champagne and placed them in front of us, giving us the following blessing, which is also known as the Balloonist’s Prayer.
The winds have welcomed you with softness
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands
You have flown so high and so well
That God has joined you in your laughter
and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth
Tim then instructed us that we were to pick up the glasses, kneeling on the mat, with our mouth and drink the champagne. My sister was a natural.
He left us with these words: Soft winds and gentle landings.
I had originally hoped to fly closer to home but discovered that the closest balloons were in Napa and Rancho Murieta. I also learned that some place an age limit on their passengers. As this was the first time I had done this type of adventure, I called and talked with Tim, the pilot, to share the capabilities and information about our group to see if this was a good fit. He described the process of getting into the baskets and landing and thought that this would work well for us. We had originally scheduled to go the prior Saturday but a storm was coming in and the predicted thunder storms made flying that day a no-go. They made the call a couple of days before our flight, but their normal process is for you to check in 24 hours ahead of time for a go, but weather can always change this with little notice.
Skydrifters, the outfit we went with, flies in the early morning, usually around 6 am or so. I learned that the winds are generally calm and favorable the first hours after sunrise and the last hours before sunset. The sun’s uneven heating of the earth’s surface causes strong, variable winds making afternoon flights unpredictable. In the morning, it takes a few hours to heat the earth’s surface enough to generate the thermal activity that creates wind. Ideal winds for commercial flights are 3-6 mph.
We had a wonderful adventure on this flight and it was a fantastic day to celebrate mom’s birthday. If you would like to learn more about hot air ballooning, there is a FAQ tab on Skydrifter’s website (link below).