The Montgolfier brothers, who invented the hot air balloon,
captured smoke from a chimney in a closed cloth bag. Even though
initially popular, general interest had died only three years
later. Today, people who enjoy the view from high sites such
as the Eiffel tower in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New
York, or the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, can enjoy sight-seeing
from hot air balloons in many cities around the world—Stockholm,
Sweden, is one of them. And this past summer I had a chance
to try it.
Because there is no way to steer an air balloon, the captain
relies totally on the wind. The captain always tries to aim
the flight across Stockholm so the passengers can get the best
possible view of the city. “OK, you’re set for
Saturday, July 12, which is 10 days from now. Still, you have
to call the captain at 3 p.m. that day to confirm the flight
due to weather complications,” said the secretary at
Nordic Balloons where I booked my trip. The secretary had also
informed me the time and location for pick up and told me that
the basket held up to 10 passengers plus the captain.
After calling the captain and receiving confirmation that the
trip was on, all 10 passengers, slightly nervous, met at 6:45
p.m. The captain and his ground assistant carefully explained
the procedures to the passengers, since they were not just
there to fly but also to function as part of the crew putting
balloon and basket together, and filling it with air. It was
clear that this four-hour-event was going to be filled with
action and excitement.
We drove to Frescati (north of Stockholm) to test the winds
with a helium balloon, and were greeted with a most impressive
sight. About 10 balloons were being prepared at this huge field,
and all were at different stages of preparation. One was just
taking off towards the clear blue sky with the sun shining
in the 70-degree-summer night. It was amazing!
OK, so listen up all of you,” said the captain as he
parked the van and its trailer on the big field. “You
only do whatever you are told to do, nothing less, nothing
more—and please let us know if you need to go to the
bathroom.” It was very important that everyone did their
task without interfering with others to keep things from getting
more complicated. The ground assistant informed the passengers
that the whole procedure from parking the van and trailer to
the balloon leaving the ground only takes a short 15 minutes.
No way, I thought to myself.
First, the basket was dragged out of the trailer and the
captain placed the propane burner on top of it. As the passengers
the enormous balloon, huge fans filled it with air. The captain
then lit the pilot light on the propane burners to heat the
air in the balloon and fill it to maximum capacity. Five
of the passengers jumped into the basket while it was still
sideways. Finally, as the balloon rose from the ground, the
basket was pulled straight up. The rest of the passengers
had only a moment to jump in before take off. This was the
15 minutes of my life!
The balloon smoothly rose from the ground, one of many balloons
rising around us, all at different heights, including some
still on the ground. The people left observing on the ground,
including my father, who was taking pictures, started to
look smaller and smaller. The first time the captain released
to the burners, causing the balloon to rise, I almost had
a heart attack, because it was so loud.
Soon we were up 3,000 feet in the air and the beautiful view
of Stockholm appeared. The air around us was totally calm,
since the balloon travels with the wind.
Each time the captain released heat from the burners, a warm
feeling spread around
the excited and amazed passengers.
After an hour flight over Stockholm, going from north to south,
it was time for landing. My family and the ground assistant
had followed the balloon during
flight while communicating with the captain via walky talky. The landing was
a bit nerve wracking because the captain can only plan where to land, and then
it’s up to the winds to cooperate. We missed the first planned landing
spot and seeing the ground coming closer was pretty scary. However, the captain
and the wind were right on for the second attempt to land. We almost hit a roof
on a two-story building, but that just added to the excitement. I feared that
the landing was going to be rough and bumpy and that the basket might even tilt,
but it didn’t. The landing was surprisingly smooth.
After the landing, all the passengers, and my family, helped
to pack the balloon and the basket back into the trailer.
Surprisingly this was also a fast 15-minute
procedure. The captain prepared a baptism ceremony and told us the history
of hot air ballooning. He then poured champagne on each and everyone’s head
and gave us aristocratic names. I’m now the Baroness of Stockholm. The
ground assistant had prepared a buffet, including champagne, sandwiches, coffee,
tea, cinnamon buns, and cookies. We all enjoyed the memorable adventure for another
hour while the Swedish summer night slowly got darker.