By Richard Gonet | NorthFortyNews.com
Aims Community College in Greeley, whose team mascot is the Aardvark, played host to a balloon launch by a group of hot air balloon enthusiasts on September 30, 2023. In the predawn darkness, teams of balloon pilots and their support crew members assembled on an athletic field at the College and at sunrise, began to prepare their craft for flight. A crowd estimated at well over a thousand people, including many families and a surprising number of infants in baby carriages, also gathered to watch their ascent.
The balloons, which are several stories high when inflated, are constructed of high-strength nylon and Nomex and are stored folded up. The first step in preparation for flight is to unpack the inflatable balloon or envelope and lay it out on the ground, it is partially inflated using large electric fans. When this has been accomplished, the liquid propane-fueled burners on the gondola, which is a wicker passenger basket, continue to inflate the envelope with hot air until it is fully inflated. Then the passengers mount the gondola, more flame produces more hot air, and the balloon lifts off.
Although modern balloons are constructed from highly sophisticated materials and are outfitted with radios, GPS, and other electronics and safety devices, the first manned balloon flight took place in 1783. The French Montgolfier brothers invented the type of balloon that is used today and it is still known as the Montgolfier Balloon in honor of its inventors.
According to Dan Griffin, an experienced professional balloon pilot, these balloons can cruise at an elevation of 1,000 feet or more but, depending on wind and ground conditions, 500 feet is a better-soaring elevation because passengers can see more of the landscape from the balloon. Pilots must be licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration and, like other aircraft in the US, balloons must be registered, have an airworthiness certificate, and pass annual inspections.
Once the balloon is airborne, its crew ‘chases’ or follows it on the ground and retrieves it after it has landed. Emily Barbo, a crew member for Evelyn Kent’s balloon, says she does not plan to become a pilot but enjoys flying as a passenger and she has a lot of fun on the team helping to launch and chase the craft. Dedicated enthusiasts try to fly every weekend when they can during the fair weather flying season, which stretches from spring until fall.
There are several hot air balloon clubs in Colorado, and balloonists meet up informally and at large balloon festivals. In Colorado, there were five balloon festivals in September, and the largest one in the world is held annually in Albuquerque, New Mexico, every October. It is quite a beautiful sight to see these brightly colored hot air balloons lift off and take to the sky with their passengers waving from the gondolas.