Balloon Ride (and Lesson!)

Albuquerque Travel Blog

 › entry 21 of 25 › view all entries

We set the alarm for 5 and were in the lobby shortly before 6. Shortly after 6, Doug Grimes and Patty Lewisfrom Discover Balloons showed up in their van. It turned out we were their only passengers for the day so we went directly to the launch site on Coors Road where two other balloons were already being inflated. Because only three of us would be flying, Doug had brought a small "sport balloon". Its small size and relatively low sides had Lin a little freaked out but we were committed. Our small balloon inflated quickly and, though we were third to arrive, we were second to launch. Since Patty would be driving the chase van, I gave her Linda's camera so she could get pictures of us. Once in the air, we headed towards the Rio Grande. Doug said we'd "play around the river for a while", then he'd let me fly.

He's a Certified Flight Instructor so he said  he'd give me a logbook entry for dual (i.e. Instructional) time. After clearing some trees, Doug dropped us down close to the river surface. As we approached a bridge, we ascended to clear it but then went right back down. It must have looked cool to the people in the cars crossing the bridge but there are so many balloons here, they probably don't even notice any more. Back on the river, we skimmed along just above the surface. At one point we were at about 3" above the water. Soon, though, we approached some trees and had to climb again. With one balloon ahead of us and another behind doing essentially the same thing, I got some great pictures.

At this point, I took over flying. Of course, with no way to steer the only control available to me was the gas valve and it was a matter of "on" or "off".

The trick is to burn at just the right time and for the right duration to maintain level flight or to make a controlled change in altitude. Even for level flight and descents, it was a bit surprising to me how much burn was necessary. Like steering a large boat, there's lot of lag between control input and reaction so anticipation is key. The other incredible thing to me was the directional changed we got from even small changes in altitude. We were trying to cross to the east side of the river but couldn't make it happen. We did, however, pass over Old Town and the zoo. We ended up over some pretty rough neighborhoods and had a heck of a time finding a place to land so Doug took control. The winds near the ground were really squirrelly so we'd head for a field and then unexpectedly change course.
Next we'd plan on that shift and set up accordingly only to have a shift in the opposite direction. Of course, there are no go-arounds in this sport so we'd have to look for yet another field. Finally, Doug made an approach to a playing field behind a school and warned us the landing could be a bit hard because of the wind. We braced for a hard landing but he greased it and, sadly, the flight was over. It had taken just over an hour of which I logged 0.5 as dual. Since I didn't have my logbook with me, Doug made the entry on a sticker that I put in the book when I returned home. 

Doug had been in radio contact with Patty so she pulled in with the van moments after we landed and they quickly got everything packed up. Doug said that, given that I already have a private pilot's licemse for an airplane, I can get one for balloon with only 10 hours under the supervision of an instructor.

I think I'd really enjoy the sport but there are limits to how many interests one can have so that one can wait for my next incarnation.

The school playing field wasn't an ideal place for the after-flight champagne celebration so Doug drove to their store in Old Town and opened up a little patio area next door. There we had mimosas and goodies and enjoyed some very pleasant conversation. It turns out Doug and Patty are sailors and travel a lot so we had plenty in common. Eventually all good things end so we headed back to the hotel, arriving at about 10:30.

We went right back out to Jimmy's for breakfast, then directly back to the hotel. I headed for the pool to read but Lin was apparently coming down with a cold so she elected to stay in the room.

At about 1:30 we went UPS to ship the several pots we had bought then on to Pappadeaux for lunch. Back again at the hotel, we picked up where we'd left off.

For dinner, we ended up at Seasons Rotisserie-Grill in Old Town. We both had lamb. I found it good but not great and the place was a bit loud. Service, however, was excellent. We walked around Old Town a bit before driving back.

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photo by: vances