Fair Winds Balloon Flight Boulder Colorado

Hot Air Balloon Flight
from Boulder, Colorado
Fair Winds

by Lloyd Garrick

August 25, 2018

I see these things in the air every single day as I am driving into Boulder to work. Kept nagging at me, finally I decided to check it out. AWESOME! A unique arial experience!

What made this experience so good was the professionalism of the Fair Winds crew; they appeared to really have it together, in contrast with some other operators in similar operations around here.
Also, the whole experience was extremely friendly and easy-going. A top-notch crew - friendly and helpfull. I always like that.

I apologize for the less-than-perfect quality of the pictures; it was an overcast day, plus California fire smoke; this creates what I think is called "back-scatter" or something, that is why the sky looks pink in some of these. (you're not tripping or having a flashback). I am not a professional photographer, my equipment is not top of the line, and photo editing software has it's limits. I plan to go back up later in the year, or early next, when the sky is blue again.

The launch site is a large field at the South West corner of Arapahoe (Rt. 7) and Wadsworth (Rt. 121/128); get detailed info and sign up for a flight at the web site - click the logo above.

You can click on any of the little pictures to get the big picture if you want.

This is the basket on it's side as the balloon is prepped. It is way overbuilt!
Solid as can be, serious heavy-metal, good welds. It holds 12 people, 6 in each
chamber. You can see the 3 flame throwers, and 4 gas tanks. And note the steel
cables which attach to the balloon and wrap around it.

The bottom - rock solid, it ain't gonna give way up there! The basket and
all equipment weighs about 800 lbs; 12 people a ton plus, and the balloon
itself about 600 lbs. Combined lift-off weight around 2 tons. Hard to believe
it is all lifted up by hot air! [I'll show you the math later]. The fan is used to
pre-inflate the balloon prior to the flame.

The balloon is laid out prior to inflating. It is quite long; can't really
get a good perspective from this picture. And it weighs 600 lbs.

These little levers control the torches.

Initial Inflating with the Fans:

The fans inflate the balloon initially, then the hot torch is fired up.
Has to be done this way - if you tried to inflate from the torches
at the beginning the fabric would be burned. This way the hot air
replaces the cold air over time resulting in a controlled inflation to vertical.



<----- Our chase truck ----->

Quite large and even luxurious inside - could be used as a 2nd home on the road!
They follow us during the 1-2 hr flight, always in radio contact, so when we do land they will be right there.

The fans begin to inflate the balloon.

Almost ready to fire up the flame throwers now.
It's quite cavernous in there; the picture
doesn't do it justice. Trust me - it's big enough
for a football game!

The flame is on - replacing the cold air with hot.
Always looks like it's gonna set the fabric ablaze,
but it never does.

Slowly, the balloon rises, eventually standing vertical
and orienting the basket to vertical also.

The other balloons rising along with us;
I think there were six total.

Lift-Off! Finally.
No sensation of movement or accelleration,
just a gentle ... floating.

We were the last to lift off, but we made up for it
by going higher then the rest eventually.

Unlike other “altitude” sports I’ve done over the years (climbing, skydive, base jump), there was no “adrenaline rush” with this. I was a bit disappointed actually! All the people were calm and cool as cucumbers – like they had done it a dozen times before. The basket is rock stable - it is not swinging or moving like you might have thought. Absolutely no sensation of vertigo, motion, acceleration, movement, etc., - it was like stepping out on a balcony of a skyscraper and looking out. Some people might have thought about doing this, but were put off by the fear of altitude, thinking they might freak out or something. Reconsider - do it!   It is a very mellow experience.   And it seemed like more than half the people were celebrating birthday, engagement, 1st baby, etc., something.

Ascending Fast ... Higher ... Higher ... Higher :

Tinderboxes and McMansions everywhere ... this ain't the same state I moved to 14 years ago!



Still rising ...

Still rising ...

My altimeter showed a maximum elevation gain of 4500 feet – actually a little better than they usually do; we were loaded light on this trip. Since the ground around here is already around 5300, that means close to 10,000 feet above sea level. I was told they can’t go higher than that without FAA hassles, but the balloon itself is capable of much higher altitude.

The prevailing winds are South and East – and that is the direction we drifted. The balloon can’t be “steered”, it goes with the wind – always S/E here. It would be nice to float West over the mountains, but just can’t.

Panoramic views of my favorite playground for many years,
hiking and climbing.

From the left, S. Boulder and Bear Peaks with Shadow Canyon,
the Slab and Fern Canyon, Pellea and Dinosaur Mountain,
Green Mountain and the famous Flatirons.

These pics would be awesome but for california
and their damn fires every year!

Since we are carried by the wind, all the balloons pretty much hang together.
Always in good company up there.

A blast from the rocket every few minutes keeps us at altitude;
the path of a balloon is like a roller-coaster, up and down,
up and down. But as I said earlier, you don't feel it as it is so gentle.

Views in all directions:

If you're from Colorado, been living and playing around here for a while, you know what you are looking at
with all these pictures. If you're from out of state - enjoy the views. But don't relocate here - it's already too crowded!



These were taken with a binocular zoom camera;
Zoom shots never really come out good, especially
with so much haze, but I thought I'd post them anyway:





So how do you lift 2 tons thousands of feet up with a bag of hot air? Well, how does a commercial jet just climb up off the runway (the big ones are well over 200 tons fully loaded)? How does a large naval warship float? We're talking tens of thousands of tons here. Why doesn't it just go "ka-plunkt" into the water like a wrench would in your sink? The laws of physics are very direct, and not really that difficult, even with the math. Often things seem to defy intuition or common sense, nevertheless, the numbers add up and it works.

The balloon operates with the same principle as the naval warship actually, it is called "Archimedes Law" after the ancient Greek philosopher who first stated it. Simply put, an object will be lifted by a force equal to the weight of the surrounding medium it displaces. The 50,000 ton ship doesn't just float on top of the water. It sinks down until it displaces (below the waterline) a volume of water equal to 50,000 tons, and at that point - it floats. If the object weighs less than what it displaces - it will rise, like a balloon.

If the balloon was filled with the same air as outside of it, there would be no difference and nothing would happen. But imagine filling the balloon with something that would have the same volume and pressure of the surrounding air, but weigh less. That difference would be the upward lift force on the balloon.

Air at normal temperature and sea level pressure wighs 0.0807 lbs per cubic foot. I was told the balloon when fully inflated has a volume of 250,000 cubic feet. Multiply it out. Ordinary air in that inflated balloon weighs a nudge over 10 tons. Helium weighs 0.0114 lbs per cubic foot - giving a weight of 1.4 tons for the balloon fully inflated. Thus if the balloon were filled with helium it would create a lift of 10 - 1.4 = 8.6 tons! This is what holds the Goodyear blimp up.

But we are not using helium, we are using hot air, created by the gas torches in the basket. Hot air is expanded - thus it weighs less than cold air. This is why flames and fires look the way they do - always burning upward as the hot gas rises. Looking at the numbers, hot air is nowhere near as efficient as helium, but it is cheaper, simpler, and - way more fun!

Thus the heat expands the air enough to lift the 2 ton basket and cargo, and I was told it could actually do a little better. And control (rising up or sinking down) is easily managed by controlling the torches.

We begin our descent; total flight time ~1.5 hours:

Can't be in denial forever - we are definitely coming down now
(all good things must come to an end)



tinderboxes and McMansions everywhere ...

For a while it was looking like we were headed strait into these.
That wouldn't be good, so we flew over them.

This is the vent at the top of the balloon - used to dump hot air
quickly during controlled descent. Hope it doesn't get stuck
open like that movie a long time ago where they crash land
on an island with giant animals or something.

Coming down the winds make prediction difficult - the pilot is
in constant communication with the chase truck. Moment by
moment changes in direction - they gotta know these streets!

Ideally, they get out and run to the balloon just before it hits
ground. They can grab it (it's 2 tons weightless!) and walk it to
the best dirt patch for gentle set down.

On the ground. Now comes the fun part picking up the balloon in an orderly fashion and packing it into the bin.
Yes - that whole balloon fits in there and one of the ladies shows one way of getting it all in.


They snap a pic of everyone in the basket just before lift-off.
Try to look your best   ;)

All in all an awesome experience, and for a very reasonable price! Lift-off is at 7:00 AM (due to the weather - this is Colorado; only time you have any reasonable chance
of calm air is in the early morning). You are done well before noon with the whole day still ahead of you! Only caveat is you need to be there around 6:15, which means
the alarm clock rings around 3-4 AM ...