19 July 1998

Hot air balloon flight in Belgium

Today I flew in an hot air balloon for the first time! Got up before dawn and drove to Viller la Ville, just outside Brussels. It is mandatory to fly in the early hours of the morning or late in the afternoon, when the air is calm. Otherwise the big and not at all aerodynamic shape of the balloon would be dangerously buffeted by the hot air of Summer thermal currents.

We we welcomed by the organizers with some hot coffee and started getting the balloon ready. The huge canvas was slowly filled with hot air by a huge fan. As the sun rose above the horizon, we (half a dozen of us) got into the big basket with our pilot.

As he fired the gas burners into the balloon we slowly lifted off. Soon afterwards the barely perceptible wind started pushing our aircraft over the Belgian fields. Down below, a car was following us, taking instructions from the pilot as to which road or path to follow to better stay close to our flight path and be ready for our recovery. (Note added in 2012: there were no GPS then, so this was the only way for the car to know where to go in order to follow the balloon as closely as possible.)

We gained altitude up to some five hundred meters. It was, needless to say, an exhilarating experience. A few times we flew pretty close to the tree tops of some hills, but when this happens the pilot fired the reassuring burners, the air in the balloon heats up and the craft moved safely up in the sky. The morning air was comfortably cool in our faces.

After about half an hour we began our descent. The pilot let the air cool inside the balloon and the aircraft moved slowly downward in a gentle glide. As we approached touch-down he instructed us to brace. Just before hitting the vegetable field he fired the burner one last time to soften our impact with the ground. As the basket hit the soil it ground to a halt and slowly tilted forward until it fell to its side. I feared for my camera but it all went well.

After disembarking amongst the inevitable excitement we got into the recovery vehicles and drove back to base camp, where a bottle of cool champagne was waiting!

Well done European Balloon Corporation! Hope to fly with you again soon.