Popularity of flying hot air balloons is sky high

Posted4/3/2017 12:10 PM

"How long does it take to travel around the globe in a hot-air balloon?" asked a young Grayslake Library patron who attended last summer's "Up, Up and Away" youth program.

Last July, the sport of hot air ballooning announced a new world record -- shortest time for an around-the-world trip -- according to the World Air Sports Federation, a century-old organization that supports air sports and verifies records for a variety of fliers, including hot air balloons, parachutes, powered airplanes and drones.

Fedor Konyukhov, a Russian Orthodox priest, navigated around the world in a Rozier hot air gas and helium balloon in 268 hours, 20 minutes -- that's 11 days. He slashed the previous record by two days.

On his perilous and exciting voyage, Konyukhov flew a distance of 34,977 km in his shimmery, silver balloon stamped with tall, red letters spelling "Moscow." Miraculously, he landed in almost the same spot in western Australia where he launched his balloon.

Konyukhov's achievement earned him the FAI-Breitling Pilot of the Year award for 2016. Even more amazing -- the world-record flight was Konyukhov's very first attempt at a trip around the world in a hot-air balloon.

For more than 200 years, people have enjoyed capturing the wind and taking flight in hot air balloons. The idea is hot air rises, so hot air trapped inside a silk envelope, or balloon, can lift high above the earth when the pilot uses heat from a burner system to lift the balloon skyward.

Hot air balloons have no steering mechanism. Pilots are trained to understand wind currents and raise or lower the balloon to take advantage of the wind direction. Long-distance travel is possible using a combination of hot air and helium heated by gas burners.

On the first hot air balloon flight in 1783, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent used a wood fire to heat the air inside a silk balloon.

Today's balloons use propane to heat the air in the fabric envelope connected to a wicker basket, called a gondola. Long-distance travelers remain inside a fiberglass capsule to protect them against very cold temperatures in the earth's atmosphere.

This oddity of hot air balloon travel drew interest from military strategists. A brief experiment during the Civil War included the Union commissioning three balloons to use for reconnaissance. Lack of financial support quickly grounded the project.

War sparked Parisian ingenuity during the German siege in 1870. Mail, some passengers and some carrier pigeons were able to escape city borders using hot air balloons.

The British and the Germans used observation balloons to search for enemy locations during World War I. During World War II, the Japanese army created a paper balloon loaded with bombs that drifted across the Pacific Ocean on a jet stream to North America. About 6,000 were launched.

In 1960, the sport of hot air ballooning was invented by Nebraskan Ed Yost when he used propane tanks to inflate a 40-foot balloon, soaring across a field on a three-mile hop.

Today, most hot air balloonists sit back to enjoy the spectacular views while gliding through the sky. Two hot air balloon museums, one in Indianola, Iowa, and the other in Albuquerque, New Mexico, offer historical detail and scientific background on the principles behind hot air ballooning.

Lisle's Eyes to the Skies July Fourth hot air balloon festival, ranked as one of the 100 top tourist attractions in the U.S., combines the visual appeal of hundreds of hot air balloons with musical entertainment and festival attractions to draw more than 70,000 visitors annually.

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