Three hot air balloon pilots and their crew met at Page Middle School to share their love of hot air ballooning with students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.
The Balloon Regatta Committee prepared curriculum information for the schools and the students studied the science and history of ballooning for a week before Nov. 4, when each grade took turns on the playground to hear the pilots talk about their balloon and how hot air ballooning works.
The history of ballooning started in 18th century France when the Montgolfier brothers developed the first hot air balloon. The science is pretty simple: A hot air balloon floats because the air inside the cloth envelope is heated. Warmer air in the balloon is lighter than the rest of the air around it, and when the air it hot enough, the balloon floats up off the ground. Modern balloons use propane to heat the air.
This reporter was a crew member for the Floating Awaysis balloon, owned by Greg and Susan Lindsey from Safford, Arizona. Floating Awaysis sports a black saguaro on one side and palm trees on the other against a colorful backdrop of yellow, turquoise, orange and red. Brian, a local Page resident, and me were the core crew members. Brian’s daughter Ainsley joined us at school.
The eighth graders were the first to come out to the field and learn about ballooning and saw the balloon fill with hot air and go from being on the ground to upright.
For many of the children, this was the first time they had seen a hot air balloon.
Susan, a former schoolteacher, loves to work with schools and children to teach them about the history and science of ballooning. Greg showed the children where the three propane tanks were located and how to turn them on and light the pilots on the burners.
Each time he would turn on the burners to heat the balloons, many children stepped back. Susan told me, “You know, it’s usually the boys who are the most likely to step away from the burners.”
The seventh graders’ turn was next to see the balloon. They learned how to control a balloon in flight by either venting hot air out the top of the balloon to go lower to the ground, turn the balloon with side vents or turning on the burners to go up again.
They learned that the Floating Awaysis is so large that eight average-size homes can fit inside the envelope and that each of two burners can heat 180 homes.
Ainsley is a seventh grader, and she went back into the school with her class to participate in other ballooning related activities at school. Brian was happy that Ainsley agreed to help prepare the balloon for the demonstration. She had worked on a balloon when it had to be put away, but neither she nor her dad had helped get it ready for flight until today. She got to stand in the gondola, or basket, while her classmates looked on.
The sixth graders were the third and last class to learn about the balloon. One young man, the tallest in his class, quietly looked on from a distance as his classmates got close to the gondola. I was also tall at his age. I asked the young man if he gets picked on at school about being so tall. He said he did. He smiled when I told him that it’s OK because the advantage is that he can see what’s going on without having to be in the crowd of shorter people.
The sixth graders got to see how a balloon is deflated and put away and became part of the crew.
The tall young man was shown how to work the crown line, a rope that connected to the top of the balloon to prevent movement from side to side and help stretch the balloon out when the air comes out the top of the balloon.
He and another crew member held the crown line while the other sixth graders helped push the air out the top by “hugging” the envelope and moving together toward the top of the envelope, turning the puffy balloon into a long length of fabric, empty of air.
The student crew helped put the balloon into a large canvas bag for storage and appeared as if a long colorful caterpillar were being stuffed back into a cocoon.
Asked what the best part of the day was, many the children said, “being outside,” “hearing the noise of the burners” or seeing the colorful balloons. The hot air balloon “gods” were smiling as all enjoyed a perfect day for ballooning.