May 26, 2008
On any given weekend in Spring, Fall and even sometimes in Summer, one might notice hot air balloons flying high in the skies over Charlottesville. And while the flight might seem effortless, getting the balloon off the ground is a different story.
Wind is one of the main elements Balloonist look at to decide if a flight will take place. The Blue Ridge Balloon Company first meets at a launch site and sends up a test balloon to estimate wind conditions.
"Just a little toy helium balloon that tells us speed and direction and we can get all the forecasts in the world but until we get out to the launch site and watch what that balloon is doing then do we really know what the conditions are doing," explains Liana Haseltine, Owner and Pilot of the Blue Ridge Balloon Company.
And while it might not seem windy at the ground, a couple hundred feet in the sky might be a different story and...
"Safety is always a top priority so winds more than about 6 or 7 mph constitutes windy for ballooning."
And windy conditions means staying on the ground so...
"The winds are most calm and stable the first thing at sunrise and the last couple of hours of day at sunset." Which is when this company chooses to fly.
Hot Air Ballooning can be an all year activity, but spring and fall are the busiest.
"People typically don't think of ballooning as a winter time activity. you see more of the landscape and the forest floor and the valleys and stuff and more wildlife."
Summer ballooning might sound ideal, however, numerous flights are hindered due to typical summer time weather conditions.
"We don't fly within a hundred miles of a thunderstorm and on any given summer afternoon, there usually are, somewhere in the state of Virginia- thunderstorms."
Another summer problem is Virginia's heat and humidity. The concept of Ballooning comes from making the balloon less dense than its surrounding environment and hot, humid air is less dense than say cooler, drier air.
"So of course the hotter it is, and the more humid it is, the more heat you have to put into the balloon and the more difficult it is on the equipment."...And the hotter it becomes inside the basket.
So while waking up early on a weekend morning and not even getting to fly might sound awful, but when Mother Nature cooperates it may truly be worth it.