Since ancient times, human beings had nurtured the desire to fly although they did not have the technology to build a machine that could help them fulfil their desire. As time went by, new technologies developed. By the arrival of the 18th century, people started making big balloons filled with steam, which, being lighter than normal air, took them into greater heights. However, nobody dared to fly on these cumbersome devices in the initial days.
Hot air ballooning as an adventure sport started in the year 1783, when two French brothers, Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, created and set aloft a 17.37-m high 'fire balloon' from the courtyard of the Versailles palace. This massive balloon did not carry human passengers but a sheep, a rooster and a duck. The balloon landed safely at a distance of 3.2 km from the Versailles palace after a flight that lasted eight minutes. In the same year, a daring person by the name of Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier along with his companion Marquis d'Arlandes decided to travel in a hot air balloon. It became the first journey made by man through air, which was powered by steam/hot air. This historic event occurred in the beautiful city of Paris and the success of this flight gave birth to the sport of hot air ballooning.
Hot air balloons created during the period were generally known as Montgolfier balloons. They were also referred to as 'fire balloons' because they carried a brazier containing burning coals, which produced steam/hot air. However, these balloons were dangerous because the brazier could alight the fabric of the balloon. Apart from the constant hazard of fire, hot air balloons also faced some other problems. They would come down to the ground once the steam/hot air filled within them cooled down. Moreover, they could only move in the direction of the wind and not against it. Hot air balloons used today for flying are a highly refined version of the Montgolfier balloons that flew in the 18th century.
In India, hot air ballooning as an adventure sport is quite new. The Balloon Club of India, which was established in 1970 in New Delhi, is the premiere organization pertaining to this adventure sport in India. The sport is rapidly gaining popularity among the adventure seekers.
Hot air ballooning is an air-based adventure sports.
The is no special or prescribed physical requirement for a person interested in taking up the sport of hot air ballooning. However, expectant mothers and people suffering from high blood pressure and heart problems must stay away from it. If you are afraid of heights, then hot air ballooning is not for you. In short, you must be fit physically as well as mentally to enjoy the thrills of hot air ballooning.
The main equipment required for hot air ballooning is the balloon, which is made from a special fire-resistant material known as the rip-stop nylon, load tape, steel wire ropes, basket/gondola, an altimeter, a compass, cylinders of propane or butane gas, burners, ropes. The basket/gondola, which is suspended below the balloon, is made from resilient wicker and enforced with a mesh of steel wire ropes.
As hot air ballooning is still in its infancy in India, you will find it extremely difficult to obtain equipment from the local markets. However, if you are an ardent fan of hot air ballooning, then you will have to import the necessary equipment needed for this sport from abroad.
An interesting aspect about hot air ballooning is that you can indulge in this activity with the minimum of special arrangements. You only have to search for a clear stretch of land from where you can easily take off in the hot air balloon. This area should preferably be outside the city or town, so that you do not have any problems with high-rise buildings and electric wires.
Delhi is the main center for hot air ballooning in India. The Balloon Club of India carries out its activities from the Safdarjung Airport in Delhi. Every year, this club organizes a 'Balloon Mela' or balloon fair in the month of November. A number of competitions and events are held during this fair. The three major events of this fair are the hare and hound race, the spot-landing race and the cross-country event.
Hare and Hound Race: As the name suggests, this event involves chasing. This event starts with a single balloon taking off. This balloon acts as the hare and floats in the air for a short while before other balloons are allowed to take off. The balloons that follow the leading balloon are the hounds. The winner is the one who lands his balloon closest to the hare
Spot-Landing Race: The spot-landing race is a popular event of
the 'Balloon Mela' and participants attempt to land their balloons
on a predetermined target area marked on the ground.
Cross-Country Event: The most popular event of the balloon fair is the cross-country race. Winning this race is not only a matter of luck, but also involves the testing of skills. Performances are judged individually and points awarded based on technical finesse in steering the balloon in flight.
The 'Balloon Mela' is a colorful event for the people who come to witness it. The entire skyline around the venue is dotted with balloons of all shapes and sizes. Children usually enjoy watching balloons made in the shape of soft drink cans or dinosaurs. People who are afraid of a full-fledged flight but still want to get into a hot air balloon can enjoy the thrills of going up in the air on a balloon tethered to the ground.
Apart from Delhi, you can enjoy hot air ballooning amidst the verdant settings of Rishikesh, Haridwar and the valley of Dehradun.
The best time for hot air ballooning is from October to March when the temperature becomes cooler. The cold climate makes the hot air inside the balloon lighter and enables it to rise and stay up for a longer period.
Made of 1,000 square yards of a special fire-resistant material called rip-stop nylon, an average balloon is 50 feet wide, 70 feet high and 57,000 cubic feet in volume. Larger versions are also available. The head end is called the crown or apex, which has an opening in the rip-stop balloon. Horizontal and vertical load tapes help to reinforce the balloon. Suspended from its mouth (lower end) by steel wire ropes is a basket called gondola, which is made of resilient wicker and strengthened by a cross-weave of metal ropes. The basket, despite its looks, is reassuringly solid and once the balloon is airborne, the sensation is similar to standing on a floating balcony. While the average basket can carry two or three persons, bigger balloons can accommodate up to ten persons. The gondola carries a simple instrument panel consisting of a compass and an altimeter to guide the crew. Cylinders of propane or butane fire the burners located at the mouth of the balloon.
The entire process of launching a hot air balloon in the air is simple. The process begins with the selection of a clear stretch of land, from where you can launch the balloon easily. The basket or gondola, which is suspended below the hot air balloon, is firstly placed on one of its sides, on the ground. The basket is then attached to the balloon with the help of specially designed steel wire ropes. After attaching the balloon to the basket, the pilot and the navigator check its fabric and make sure that it is not damaged or torn. Meanwhile, the basket is tethered to the ground with ropes, which are tied around metal rods partially dug into the ground. It is important to anchor the balloon to the ground or else it would fly away, as soon as you finish filling it with hot air.
After the basket is securely attached with the balloon, a burner is mounted on the basket. Propane or butane gas cylinders are attached to the burner and the mouth of the balloon is opened wide. The burner is made in such a way that the nozzles from which the jet of flame will come out can be tilted to the required angle. A fan attached to the burner is turned on which pushes air into the balloon. Burner nozzles are then adjusted to an angle from where they can easily heat the air going inside the balloon. Slowly the burner is turned on and the jet of flame leaping up from the burner nozzles starts to heat the air going into the balloon. Within a few minutes, the balloon is inflated and it rises up towards the sky as if a giant who is waking up from his slumber. As soon as the balloon attains an upright position, the basket attached to it is also lifted up to an upright position. However, the balloon cannot fly away on its own as it is securely tethered to the ground.
After making sure of the prevailing weather conditions and the wind direction, the flying crew, usually comprising of a pilot and a navigator, check the balloon for the final time, for any physical and technical snags. With the hot air balloon ready for take off, passengers are taken aboard and into the basket. Some hot air balloons can hold as many as 10 people on board. The flight commences as soon as the balloon is released from the tethering that binds it to the ground. Once the balloon rises into the sky, there is little control over its flight and direction. It is carried along the direction of the flowing wind. The only control that the pilot has over the balloon is by the means of heating the air for rising further up or releasing (deflating) the air from the balloon in small amounts to help it descend. Hot air balloons can fly at a height of 100 to 800 meters (328-2,624 ft) above the ground.
Standing in a swaying but secure basket high above the ground and suspended under a colorful canopy filled with hot air provide an exhilarating experience. As the giant hot air balloon slowly drifts through the sky, you can have a bird's eye view of your surroundings. You can also enjoy the panoramic view of plains, farms, forests, and cityscape, and survey it from your vantage position.
The Balloon Club of India, established in 1970, is the apex body for hot air ballooning in India. The Balloon Club also operates its activities from the Safdarjung airport in Delhi.
You must take permission from the Balloon Club of India before embarking on a ballooning trip in India.
1. Never venture out on a turbulent day. The mild winter winds are the ideal time for going up in a balloon.
2. If the wind velocity on the ground exceeds 8 miles per hour (12.87 km per hour), abandon any attempt to take flight. This is because the balloon will not fill up smoothly and will be dragged along the ground, which might damage it.
3. During descent, be wary of electric poles, wires and spires. Land only on a clear piece of ground.