Ballooning: Lighter than Air

The inside of a balloon, flipped. It actually reads Woo Hoo as seen when flying outside above this balloon.

Ballooning is one of my fondest pursuits. We’ve had fun with so many people. We’ve shared wonderful experiences, as well as tragedies, with friends, family and strangers in balloons.

That English teacher who opened the world for me through literature was rumored to be writing a book. So, one day I asked her. She said “I think everyone has at least one book in them.” Mine would be centered around ballooning. Honestly, I have started the book. I’ve been writing it for years, but I need to get disciplined to finish it, to make it readable.

I haven’t actually had the chance to be in a balloon for years, but here are some highlights from when I was ballooning regularly. I took all of the photos that I’m not in. The others were probably taken by who ever was standing around with whatever camera I was using at the time.

Hot Air Ballooning (HAB)

The pretty colors and large events that many people think of are primarily in hot air balloons. That’s a Lighter Than Air (LTA) craft with and onboard heater (the burners). Pilots and Aircraft have to be certified by the FAA.

ABQ Fiesta 2001 when they had 1000 balloons. This Adams Pop Top, has a really unique deflation system.

There are all kinds of balloons and all kids of ballooning, from festivals and joy rides to serious international level competition and record breaking flights.

Dawn Patrol at Albuquerque Fiesta 2001

Sometimes competition (and sport) pilots will inflate a pibal to get an idea what winds aloft are doing. At bigger festivals like Albuquerque Fiesta, there will be a Dawn Patrol in the early morning where pilots with night time navigation certification will go up in the dark, during the pilot briefing so pilots and crew can see what the wind is doing as they are being prepared for the coming flight. Flying in the Dawn Patrol is something I still want to do. It’s a small number of balloons, and a lot of people want to be in them.



I was first and “observer” for US Hot Air Balloon Nationals in Anderson SC. An observer is a race official somewhat like a referee. We record different details of the flight for the assigned pilot. On this day I was working the target sight. The white fabric is a target, or the “X”. In this photo we’re finishing up paperwork after the target was closed and waiting for a ride.

World Records

I also served an official observer capacity for World Record flights and attempts. The photo below is of the Hot Air Balloon (HAB) Savannah Six when the pilot Andy Cayton made a duration record. Of course, all you can see is the burner with a little bit of the skirt and some low clouds.

Night Flight balloon burner photo shot from some dirt road in the middle of nowhere.

The flight was just shy of 24 hours long. After you drive around chasing snow hares through the country and retrieving discarded tanks for that long, everyone is saying of someone else “Watch (insert the name of any crew member). He doesn’t seem to be thinking straight.” And, just to be clear we weren’t actually chasing snow hares, but they were running around and showing up in our headlights. Seeing them in the quiet white snow cover was otherworldly for this southern girl. The whole experience was crazy, but a lot of fun and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

Gas Balloons

One type of balloons is a Gas balloon, not as common as hot-air balloons in standard or special shapes. Roziers (a combination of gas and hot air balloons designed for distance flights) and smoke balloons each have unique histories. Balloons were used during the Civil War for reconnaissance and during the space race for research.  Here is a favorite old photo of me standing beside Joe Kittinger at a ballooning safety seminar.

Normally I don’t pose for photos with event speakers, but this is a very special exception. You can read about Joe in The Pre-Astronauts: Manned Ballooning on the Threshold of Space If you like that, also read  Race to the Stratosphere: Manned Scientific Ballooning in America.

Flying from the Stratobowl will probably forever be on my list of things I’d love to do someday.

For information on ballooning organizations please go to the Balloon Federation of America or the Federation Internationale Aeronautique

For some other great books on ballooning check the links below.


Military History

Military Ballooning during the Early Civil War

The War of the Aeronauts: The History of Ballooning in the Civil War

They Sailed the Skies: U.S. Navy Balloons And the Airship Program

Picture Books

The Joy of Ballooning


Record Flights

A Life in the Air

Around the World in 20 Days: The Story of Our History-Making Balloon Flight

Riding the Jetstream :The Story of Ballooning: From Montgolfier to Breitling

At The Mercy of the Wind: Two Remarkable Journeys to the North Pole: A Modern Hero and A Victorian Romance

The Man Who Touched the Sky

Chasing the Wind: The Autobiography of Steve Fossett

The Greatest Adventure

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