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What to Expect

A hot air balloon is unique because you assemble and disassemble the aircraft for every flight.  It is a fascinating process.  These pictures will give you an idea of what is involved. 


Click the photos for an enlarged image.

Photo credits: Tesha Huffaker, unless otherwise stated.


A pibal:

It is important to know the wind conditions before taking off so a balloon pilot sets off a pibal (helium filled balloon) to check the conditions at the launch site.

Prepare the basket: 

The first step of assembling the balloon is to connect the upright supports and put the burners in place.

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Test fire the burners:

To ensure a safe flight both burners are tested.

Attaching the envelope:

Next we attach the envelope (the pretty part) to the basket.

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Preparing to inflate:

Kaleidoscope is a large balloon (120,000 cubic feet), so we need to spread it out before we can start to inflate.

Cold inflation:

It is important to know the wind conditions before taking off so a balloon pilot sets off a pibal (helium filled balloon) to check the conditions at the launch site.


Instrument calibration:

A balloon pilot flies with several instruments: an altimeter, a temperature sensor and a GPS.

Crown line:

During inflation of the envelope we have two people holding the crown line ropes.  This helps keep the envelope from moving in the breeze. Photo credit: Charlee Eekhoff

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Looking into mouth of the envelope towards the parachute at the top.

View from the crown line:

You get a colorful view from the crown line.

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Hot inflation:

Once the fans have filled the balloon it is time to add some heat!

Aiming at targets:

During an event flight you are aiming to fly over 1-3 targets. Often the winds will be from different directions at different altitudes, giving pilots a minimal degree of steering.

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Iowa scenery:

Flying in a balloon is a quiet and peaceful experience.  When the pilot is not burning it is silent.

Lift off:

The first sight you will see as you take off - the truck and trailer growing smaller behind you.

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We can land in any open space, typically in a large yard, a farm waterway, road and on occasion the airport. Photo credit: Charlee Eekhoff

Maneuvering a balloon:

After landing the crew will sometimes help to tow the balloon into a location with more space or closer to the truck and trailer to make the disassembly easier.

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Once the balloon is on the ground it is time squeeze the air out of the envelope.

Put the kids to work:

A favorite job for the youngest crew members is to hand the straps out as the adults squeeze it.

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Laying down on the job:

The squeezer doesn't remove all of the air from the envelope, so we need help squishing the last of the air out as we put it into its storage bag.

Bleeding the lines:

Before stowing the burners we make sure to burn the fuel remaining in the lines.


Packing up:

At the end of the flight we fit it all back into the trailer.

After flight toast:

After someone's first flight in a balloon there is an after flight toast, which dates back to the very beginnings of ballooning.

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