Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Early Morning Balloons

On Sunday I was up before even the cock crows, at 4:00am. I was meeting a group at The Flying Circus in Bealeton, VA to see the hot balloons take off. We'd been hoping for a beautiful mist to cloak the balloons, like I'd seen there a few years ago but as soon as I started driving, even in the dark I knew there would be no mist or fog. The lake near home didn't even have a whisper hanging over the water and the grass was bone dry.
It was still dark when I arrived and I had to wait a few minutes before someone came to the kiosk so I could pay. I think I was the first visitor to arrive. I waited in Stuart for the sky to lighten up and before long I saw Mario arrive.
 We walked around the planes and hangars, constantly looking back towards the area where the balloons would be unpacking but there was no activity there. We walked over and heard that they were concerned about the low lying clouds and slight wind. They let off a couple of small balloons and then decide they would take off a little further north on Rte 17. Mario and I ran towards Stuart and in a few minutes were tailing a truck pulling a trailer with 2 balloon baskets on the back. But they left Rte 17 and headed down a rural road so we followed. After a few miles we followed them into the driveway of a house with paddocks out the back. Apparently they had taken off from here on Saturday and had called this morning but got no answer. Trusting the owner would be OK about it, they went to the same field. There were a few more balloons being unpacked from trucks and Todd from our group was also here. The 3 of us asked if we'd be OK taking photos and were given a free rein to go where we wanted. What a superb opportunity to be so close to these inflatable giants and only 3 of us to photograph them. i was so happy about this because if there had been a lot of cameras in the way I don't think these folks would have been so tolerant, especially as ballooning is a hazardous activity.
We ran back and forth, always making sure that we didn't get in the way of the crew or the ropes and fans.
 Fans blew air into the base of the balloon while people at the head started fastening the canopy to the tops of the balloons.
This lady called me over to see inside the balloon and I had to quickly set my camera and take the shot. So glad it came out great, there was no chance of a second go, the balloon was filling up fast.
 The balloons filled up fast and each was held down by 1 or 2 people with ropes further down the field.
 Once filled, the baskets and burners were put into place, fastened and flames shot into the balloons.
You don't usually get the opportunity to get as close as we did, we were very fortunate. The heat from the burners was intense.
 The passengers had to quickly climb into the baskets and they were off, rising rapidly into the sky.
 Not sure why this lady was standing in front of the fan, she was having a hard time holding those lines.
And the last one was off. There were another 2 balloons in the next field but we really didn't have time to race between the fields. I was worried about my knee as I'd been crouching down to look up into the balloons and then running to and fro to get the best vantage points, sometimes wanting to be up close and then wanting to get right back to fit as much into my photo as possible. But it seemed OK. My feet were drenched and I was glad I had spare shoes in the car. My knees were also wet from kneeling in the grass. Bealeton had had rain in the early hours so the grass was soaked. I saw the house owner walk to the fence and went to chat with him. The poor guy was barely awake but was fine with us being there. He had heard the phone but chosen not to answer as it was so early. but he was up now getting ready for church and glad I think that we'd be leaving soon.
 Mario grabbing a last shot as the balloons lifted into the sky and then we ran back to Stuart so we could return to the airfield in time to see them land.
 But we didn't have to rush. Once the balloons had got airborne their progress was slow. There was little wind and maybe the humidity played a part in pulling them down but they were having problems staying up. They limped across the fields, slowly bobbing up and down as their pilots tried to gain elevation with the burners. Some were landing in folks' front yards. The crew would then have to climb out of the basket and drag the balloon away from the house so they could take off again. I wondered if any people were woken up by the sound of the gas burners roaring outside their bedroom windows!
 We got back to the airfield to find out that none of the balloons had arrived.We suspected trucks and crews had to go rescue some of them because it looked like a few had overshot the airfield. But one managed to get back and the crowds flocked to see it land.
 The voice of the show, constantly giving a running report on activity in the sky and on the field.
 It looked like awkward work packing up the balloons afterwards but the crew were efficient and quick, everything bundled on to the trucks within 15 minutes.
Some of the bi-planes were giving paid flights to folks in the crowd but there weren't many up in the air. The air show itself wasn't starting until after 2pm but I decided not to stay. I've seen the show before and by now was thinking of a sofa and taking a nap after I'd edited my photos. I was heading home. And what good timing, as I started pulling out large drops of rain began falling onto the windscreen. I really do manage to make some fortunate exits sometimes!

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