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Thursday, Sep. 29, 2016

My Beautiful Balloon

Posted Friday, October 16, 2009, at 9:27 AM

Don't try this at home.
Yeah, big deal. I took off in a balloon once when I was a kid. But nobody mobilized the National Guard or sent any Blackhawk helicopters after me. (Though I guess it would have been Hueys back then.) And I didn't get my own television show, which I guess that whacked-out family in Colorado probably has by now. [Update: Maybe not.]

How it happened was that I and two friends of mine, Delbert and Lonnie Waxdale, were discussing the film, "Around the World in Eighty Days," which had recently been run on television. The movie didn't make that great an impression on me other than making me wish I had a dapper mustache like David Niven. Delbert and Lonnie, however, were all fired up by the balloon flying scenes, and were gung-ho to build one of their own. They had even already drawn up the plans. So we pried the padlock off their dad's shop building and went right to work.

The gondola was a laundry basket, and it would be attached to the balloon with clothesline which we calculated their mother wouldn't miss before we were safely at cruising altitude. That much was simple. The balloon itself was trickier, but as luck would have it, there was a solution at hand. The family had recently purchased a new bed due to Delbert having set the old one on fire (long story), and the great big plastic bag the new mattress came in had conveniently blown out of the back of the store's delivery truck as soon as it pulled back out on the highway. That and some duct tape for patching holes was all we needed.

We knew that the balloon in the movie was a "hot air" balloon, and luckily that was no problem at all. Delbert and Lonnie's father owned an air compressor, and it was July, so all the air was hot already. We dragged the whole thing outside; I got in the gondola, and Lonnie started the compressor. Pretty soon the mattress bag was starting to get bigger and bigger.

But this is where our relative inexperience with ballooning unfortunately came into play. We made our next move without considering some potentially important factors like atmospheric density, prevailing winds, and gravity. When the mattress bag was filled and yet still showed no inclination to get airborne at all, it occurred to us that we could give it a head start by beginning the flight at a higher altitude. So we hauled the whole business up onto the roof of the shed, I got back in the basket and they pushed me off.

It is just as well that there were no 24-hour cable news channels in those days. As a Media Event, my flight would have been fairly brief. (Fourteen feet at 32 feet per second per second. You work it out.) Lonnie and Delbert were undeterred. They assured me that after watching me plummet to (and partially embed myself into) the ground, they now saw where they had gone wrong and could easily adjust the design to compensate. I said that they could count me in, but that next time one of them could ride in the basket.

At that point they decided that, upon reflection, there was no future in ballooning anyway, what with the growing popularity of fixed-wing aircraft.

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Nice stuff It will help to create an online essay to create more things.

-- Posted by madysmith on Mon, Nov 23, 2009, at 10:01 AM

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