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Local balloon team takes Nevada Magazine for a ride.
Photo: Matt Smith
Nevada is known for its mountainous terrain and rugged beauty, and this summer I had the pleasure of looking at it from a fresh perspective: 500 feet up. My first hot-air balloon ride was a lesson in the calculated teamwork it takes to inflate, fly, and deflate. It was also a reminder that some of the best things in life (think fishing) require waking up early—really early. That's when you can expect calm wind, a necessity for a steady balloon ride.
On August 11, pilot Gayle McCoy, captain of the Misbehavin' balloon team in Spring Creek, was courteous enough to take Nevada Magazine art director Matt Smith and me on a peaceful ride over northeastern Nevada. We met the crew at 6 a.m. in the parking lot of the Spring Creek Sports Complex.
For the record, it was not Smith's first time in a hot-air balloon, but he was also fascinated by the balloon team's meticulous ways. "It was interesting seeing and hearing how choreographed the process of setting up, wind-direction monitoring, weather checking, landing, chase crew communication, and dismantling were," says Smith, who snapped all the photos you see here.
The amazing thing to me is how safe and secure you feel while in the air, even though the reality of the situation is that tragedy could be one major malfunction away. Below is a step-by-step look at the process by which McCoy and the Misbehavin' crew got us up in the air—and down.
1. The main photo is that of Gayle and his son, D.J., testing the propane burner that will be the source of the hot air that keeps the balloon afloat. Most hot-air balloons use a wicker basket for the passenger compartment. Wicker works well because it is sturdy, flexible, and relatively lightweight, making for a softer landing.
|2. The multicolored balloon envelope is spread across a large blue tarp on the ground before inflation. The crew is careful not to step on the envelope while they spread it over the tarp. Next, a powerful fan is used for a majority of the inflation|
|3. The McCoys monitor the process of heating the envelope. The source of the hot air is two propane tanks fastened to the inside of the basket. The lower portions around the balloon opening are made of a fire-resistant material.|
|4. Rip-stop nylon is the most common material used for envelopes. Crew members circle different areas of the balloon, checking for problem spots, such as a hole in the envelope. Safety is priority number one.|
|5. The balloon is almost ready for flight. It takes the upper-body strength of nearly the whole crew (about 15 people) to keep it from hovering in the air. This is the time when the pilot makes last-minute safety checks, such as making sure the crew's communication devices are operating effectively.|
|6. The crew waves goodbye as Gayle, Matt, and I take flight. It takes about 15 minutes to get airborne. As Gayle consistently fires the fuel jets, the balloon rises steadily.|
|7. Gayle (left) and I pose while flying over Spring Creek and the surrounding mountains. The weather is perfect on this summer morning. In the open land below, hundreds of jackrabbits scurry about each time Gayle fires the burner. We also can see some residents moving about in their front and backyards. Spring Creek is a rural community located near the base of the Ruby Mountains.|
|8. When Gayle is ready to land, he discusses possible landing sites with the ground crew via radio. They need to find a wide open space, where there are no power lines and plenty of room to lay out the balloon. The landing process is never as smooth as take off, but the crew does a good job of catching the basket and getting us on the ground.|
|9. Again the tarp is laid out so the envelope can rest on it, to protect it from wear and tear. Gayle opens the parachute valve all the way, so the air can escape out the top of the balloon. The ground crew grabs a cord attached to the top of the balloon, and pulls the envelope onto the tarp.|
|10. Once the balloon envelope is on the ground, the crew begins pushing the air out. Here, Gayle and I use a metal bar, aka "the milker," to speed up deflation. When the balloon is flattened, the crew packs it into a stuff sack using a fairly complex folding method.|
|Misbehavin' does not offer flights as a regular service, but they do play a supporting role in the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival, an annual event held every September in Elko.|
NEVADA BALLOON EVENTS
Red, White, and Blue Balloon Festival
Lovers Aloft Balloon Races
Great Reno Balloon Race
North Las Vegas
Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival
The Balloonist’s Prayer
May the winds welcome you with softness,
May the sun bless you with its warm hands,
May you fly so high and so well
That God joins you in laughter
And sets you back again into
The loving arms of Mother Earth
-cr- in the Air, 2004