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Above It All: Hot Air Ballooning

Those with No Particular Place to Go, Ballooning is the Only Way to Travel
Terrence Fagan
From the Print Edition:
Michael Richards, Sep/Oct 97

(continued from page 3)

In fact, says Wright-Smith, the tradition of carrying the celebratory bottle of Champagne on balloon flights originated when the sport was in its infancy, as a peace offering from French balloonists to farmers whose crops they may have damaged upon landing.

Though balloons are a lighter-than-air craft, on the ground they tip the scales. "There's a lot of physical labor involved," says Rush. "Even if you have just a two- or three-passenger basket, you're talking about 300 or 400 pounds with full tanks, and the envelope's a couple hundred pounds."

But for balloonists there are countless moments that make up for the minor hassles. For Sena, a favorite ballooning moment is on the ground: the Albuquerque Fiesta's nighttime Balloon Glow, when hundreds of balloonists, keeping their balloons on the ground, fire up their burners at the same time.

"There is a magic to it," he says, "something that's almost indescribable. It has an ethereal quality. You stand and watch when 400 balloons in the dark of night hit their burners at precisely the same moment, and the ground will rumble under your feet." And in the air, he says, his most memorable ride is "about two weeks from now."

For Rush and Mount, ballooning is the adventure of flying the campaign balloon of Leonel Fernandez, the present president of the Dominican Republic, in small towns and stadiumsaround the country during the Dominican elections last year. Or flying over the million-dollar estates and rolling green hills of western New Jersey.

For Wright-Smith, the joy of ballooning is teaching new pilots how to get off the ground and fly safely, watching the excitement in their eyes as they learn the sport that's so much a part of her own life.

For many, ballooning is also about the small moments--rising into the air with the sun at dawn, fulfilling the lifelong wish of excited passengers, enjoying the camaraderie of fellow pilots and crew, flying over fields and farms and ranches and backyards and waving to the people below as they look up with faces filled with smiles and wonder.

Perhaps John Gillespie Magee Jr., a 19-year-old American pilot in the Second World War, described ballooning best when he wrote:

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

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