Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'll Fly Away

Last Friday I had an amazing adventure. You see, last year I went to the Plano Balloon Festival, and my friend Dena said I should have told her I was going because her brother was there with his balloon and I might have been able to help crew. Well, this year I remembered that and told Dena I definitely wanted to help crew the balloon. So I took Friday off from work and set out for some fun. I got to Plano at 6:00 a.m. - it was still dark out! - and after the pilots' meeting we headed for the field. I got to help Rocky, Dena, and Shack unload, set up, and inflate Rocky's hot air balloon. It was really cool to be so close to all the balloons going up.And then the adventure really took off, literally! Though it was windy and Rocky had initially said he wasn't going to fly that morning, after the balloon was upright he told me to get in the basket, Dena handed me my camera, and off we went! Oh my, it was fabulous! Our takeoff was really easy, it was hard to tell when we actually left the ground. And it was amazing to look down over Plano, Allen, and Frisco, to see the other balloons being inflated below us and flying all around, to hear the burner as Rocky periodically added more heat to keep us in the air. It was just incredible! And then, it was time to land... And land we did! Rocky pointed out a field in the distance and said he was going to try to set the balloon down there. As we got closer and closer to the ground, the winds picked up speed. Rocky told me to stow my camera and hold on, and then we touched down. Actually, we hit... HARD! We bounced up and Rocky cut the burners because of all the wildfires we've been having in Texas. And Rocky said, "Ooh, I almost lost my britches!" Then we hit again, and the basket tipped on its side and the balloon pulled us across the field. We were sliding on our side, my shoulder was digging into the ground as we slid, and Rocky had landed on top of me when we landed. It seemed like we slid for minutes. When we finally stopped moving, Rocky asked if I was okay and whether I had broken anything. I told him I was fine and said "Do you still have your britches?!" We laughed, and then climbed out of the basket to wait for the chase crew to arrive. You can see our "drag" in the picture below. I stuck around in Plano for the rest of the day and we went back out to the field that night with full intentions of setting up the balloon again for the balloon glow. Unfortunately, a big storm came through and we had to leave. But I went back up on Saturday afternoon to try again. The winds were really bad and so Rocky decided not to set up his balloon, but a lot of the others did, and I thoroughly enjoyed being out there among the balloons, seeing them glow, hearing the burners, and fellowshipping with the pilots and crews.

Flight stats for my first hot air balloon ride:
Pilot - Rocky Bailey
Balloon - "Fly 'N Again"
1 hour 15 minute flight
20+ mile flight (from Plano to Frisco)
1500 feet high
15-17 knot winds upon landing
50 foot drag




After the flight, Rocky read the Balloonist's Prayer, tradition for celebrating a first flight -


"May the winds welcome you with softness.
May the sun bless you with its warm hands.
May you fly so high and so well that
God joins you in laughter.
And sets you gently back
into the loving arms of Mother Earth."


Well, all of it applies except for the part about a gentle landing! I was so grateful to Rocky and his crew for welcoming me and allowing me to join them for the weekend. I had a blast meeting everybody, and I'm already looking forward to my next flight.

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