Hey, it’s me, Ben (the Vintage Dad), checking in again after having the most amazing time flying with the US Hot Air Balloon Team!
I grew up near the small-town Iowa community of Indianola, which just happens to be home to the National Balloon Classic, so I’m no stranger to being around hot air balloons. But surprisingly, I’ve never had the chance to take an untethered flight in one of these scientific marvels. So when Lauryn said I had to go represent the Vintage Mom on a ride, I was pumped!
Rising before dawn and making the short drive to the tiny Pottstown Airport, I was excited and filled with anticipation about what the next few hours held in store. The crew from US Hot Air Balloon Team was there waiting, getting the gear prepped and waivers signed by all. I met Russ (our pilot) and Justin (crew chief) and was quickly put to work holding the bottom of the balloon open while a few giant fans filled the envelope with air.
Once the 140,000+ cubic feet of air had been moved into the balloon, Russ gave it a few super heated blasts from the burners and the recognizable oblong hot air balloon shape formed just above our heads, the basket righted itself, and our small group of six was ready to board for our flight!
Climbing over the side and finding a comfortable standing position, I readied myself for a thrilling take off, but was surprised when I looked down and saw that we had already left the ground and I barely noticed! That’s probably the biggest surprise of the whole trip – when you’re floating on air (literally), you don’t even feel like you’re moving. It’s a surreal sensation of simply being detached from the earth and having a freedom that is unlike any other.
Before I knew it, Russ gave us the update that we were now 1,700 feet above the ground! Now, I am not afraid of heights at all, and looking around at the amazing landscape there was absolutely no fear or feeling of being unsafe. But being a six-foot-tall person, the basket topped off at waist-high for me and when I leaned over to look at the ground direct below (WAY BELOW!), it definitely shook my nerves a little! The others in the basket were all shorter than me and all of them said they felt just as comfortable as could be.
If the balloon had coasted here for a bit more and then headed back for a landing, I would have said that this was a great flight and an excellent experience. But it turns out we were just getting started! As the sun rose above the horizon and the world was bathed in the warm orange glow of a new day, I and the six other brave souls packed into that leather and wicker basket climbed high above the waking communities below. Higher and higher we flew, until we were high enough that we could see the outline of the Philadelphia skyline 50 miles to the east and the topographical wonders surrounding the Schuylkill River to the west. At this point, I looked down and could no longer make out individual people moving about as we had reached a full mile (5,280 feet) above the ground!
We floated effortlessly east, riding on the wind (there is no way to steer), passing rivers and hills, fields and houses, all the while, soaking in the feeling of being completely free and unfettered. Russ took this opportunity to spray some shaving cream into the ether, which doesn’t sound like it’d be that cool…but it was! The bits of foam floated around, and instead of dropping to the earth, stayed with us, suspended in air, twisting and turning on the wind just like we were. I’ve never felt closer to shaving cream.
Approaching the Schuylkill River, we started to descend, and Russ made a joke about landing in the shallow, flowing river. We all laughed, but then I started to doubt it was a joke as we got closer and closer to the surface of the water. We ended up hovering no more than 2 feet above the water, staring back at our own reflection in the rippling glass below. Then with a hot blast of flame from both burners, we shot back up above the trees faster than I would have thought possible!
After just over an hour in the air, we began to scout the terrain in front of us, looking for a flat, unobscured place to land. We found the perfect spot in a lovely neighborhood where we were greeted by waves and whistles from the locals who were as surprised as anyone to have a hot air balloon land in their driveway at 8am! Touching down as gently as a feather, Justin and the crew packed up the balloon (yeah, you pack it just like a sleeping bag and shove it in a canvas pouch), and within 15 minutes we were all in the van that had been trailing us, heading back to our point of origin.
I have nothing but GREAT things to say about this experience and the professionalism of the crew from US Hot Air Balloon Team. This was the kind of ride you remember for a lifetime. And even if your memory fails you at some point, the breathtaking pictures you can take (even a very amateur photographer) will serve as a lasting memento of the time you could count yourself as someone not of this world, floating among the clouds.
Back at the airport, we all dined on danishes and sipped mimosas, while Russ regaled us with The Hot Air Balloon Toast, wishing us all safe travels. Walking away with my complimentary champagne glass and a certificate making my first hot air balloon flight official, I was riding high and filled with the excitement that can only come with an exhilarating experience like this.
Thanks to the US Hot Air Balloon Team crew for one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had!
Facts, figures, and things to know about hot air balloon rides:
You can’t steer. You’re literally floating on the wind, so you go where it goes. The pilot can make the balloon go up and down and spin around, but your direction is completely at the whim of the weather gods.
It’s highly dependent on the weather. Flights typically happen at dawn or dusk because that’s when the wind is the most favorable. I had this ride scheduled and rescheduled a few times as the weather didn’t always cooperate.
It’s not cold up there. You would think it’s colder in the upper atmosphere, but because you’ve got 10,000 pounds of hot air just above your head, it’s actually about 10 degrees warmer in the basket.
It’s not scary. You really don’t even feel like you’re moving. It is in fact, one of the most tranquil and peaceful situations you could ever be in.
I for one can’t wait to go again. Now I just have to get Lauryn to go with me.
You can read my “date” for the day’s write up here.
* Disclosure: The US Hot Air Balloon Team sent us on a ride in return for writing a review of the ride. All thoughts and opinions are my own.