National Geographic : 1966 Mar
Touching down, pilot Mal J. Fink releases his gondola and, with less weight, the balloon rises again. But two lines attached to the gondola pull taut and rip open side panels on the bag. A light planes and gliders, and I'm a sports par achutist. Since I discovered ballooning three years ago, I go up in balloons whenever I can.* For all my love of the air, however, I think it's the quiet that appeals to me most in bal looning-the quiet, and the sense of freedom, and the challenge. I am alone, and I must match myself against the deceptively peaceful sky and the waiting ground. Return to Earth Requires Skill I have now reached "17 grand"-17,000 feet-in my frail basket, dangling on steel cables from the nylon bag. I can still see three balloons; the rest have sailed out of sight, soaring on other winds, at other altitudes. Every few minutes I turn up my burners. The air inside the envelope must be kept 100 or more degrees hotter than the air outside, or the balloon will begin a rapid descent. I watch my pyrometer carefully; if the air in side the bag gets much hotter than 2500 F., the skin may become brittle and crack. The mountain range passes far below me. Time, in this race, is running out, and I must find a place to land. 404 Now begins the tricky descent. I pull the retaining line at the crown tips the balloon, and hot air spills out with a rush. The landing method differs from the author's, whose Raven balloon has a rip panel in the crown. EKTACHROMES() NATIONALGEOGRAPHICSOCIETY cord that opens the maneuvering vent-pop ularly called the "hoo-hoo" (page 399). This slit high on the side of the envelope normally remains closed but, when open, allows hot air to escape and thus reduces the buoyancy of the balloon. The rate-of-climb needle points down and the altimeter unwinds. If my balloon comes down too fast it will fill with cold air and smash into these boulder-strewn mountains. So I slacken the cord and the pressure of hot air in the bag automatically closes the valve. I turn up the burners and the balloon gently levels off. I have come down 1,000 feet on an invisible aerial staircase. Repeating the proc ess, over and over, I take giant 1,000-foot steps toward the earth. As I approach ground, an unexpected up draft holds me eerily just above a cliff-no place for landing. I fire up the burners and leap-frog past the hazard. At least there are no wires strung across this open country. I think of my young friend *For other NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC accounts of the fascination of ballooning, see "Across the Alps in a Wick er Basket," by Phil Walker, January, 1963; and "Braving the Atlantic by Balloon," by Arnold Eiloart, July, 1959.