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Ballooning – Up, Up and Away

It’s like a child’s fantasy come true. Giant balloons billow out their folds parading in a multi-coloured spectacle as balloonists suspended on seemingly precarious baskets wave to the enthusiastic crowds below.

Ballooning as a sport is not a recent arrival. As early as 1783, two brothers, Joseph Michel Montgolfier and Jacques Etienne Montgolfier, set aloft a 57-foot high ‘fire balloon’ from the courtyard of the Versailles Palace. The balloon, carrying a sheep, a rooster and a duck landed safely eight minute later, two miles from the palace. Spurred by the success of their balloon launch, the brothers sought new ways of improving upon the design. And, many techniques, designs and centuries later, we have our balloon of today.

Made of 1000 square yards of a special fire-resistant material called rip-stop nylon, an average balloon is 50 feet wide, 70 feet high and 57,000 cubic feet in volume. (Larger versions are also available). The head end is called the crown or apex which has an opening in the rip-stop balloon. Horizontal and vertical load tapes help to rein-force the balloon. Suspended from its mouth (lower end) by steel wire ropes, is a basket called the gondola. It is made of resilient wicker and strengthened by a cross-weave of metal ropes. The basket, despite its looks, is reassuringly solid and once the balloon is airborne, the sensation is not dissimilar to standing on a floating balcony. While the average basket can carry two or three persons, bigger balloons can accommodate up to ten persons.

The gondola carries a simple instrument panel consisting of a compass and an altimeter to guide the crew. Cylinders of propane or butane fire the burners located at the mouth of the balloon. After being briefed about the weather conditions and the wind direction, the flying crew, usually comprising a pilot, a navigator and a photographer, check (for the last time) for any physical and technical snags.

The launch procedure itself is very simple: When cold air is blown into the mouth by a fan, and the burners lit, a jet of flames furbish the hot air that gets the balloon airborne.

Once the balloon is released from the tether ropes that bind it to the ground, there is little control over its flight and it goes where the wind fancies. The only volitional control is by means of heating the air and rising further up, or releasing the air and descending.

But it is the charming uncertainty of ballooning that makes it a sure success among the more adventurous.

The Ballooning Club of India was inaugurated on November 23, 1970, by Neil a. Armstrong – the first man to walk upon the moon. Every year, the club organizes the Balloon Mela which attracts participants from a large number of foreign countries. Thee are three major events to participate in. Performances are judged and points awarded on the basis of technical finesse in steering the balloon in flight.

This year the Balloon Mela will be held between October 29 and November 5.

The Ballooning Club of India

Safdarjung Airport

New Delhi – 110 003

Tel: 91-11-616893


To ensure flight safety, some rules must be adhered to:

* Never venture out on a turbulent day. The mild winter winds are the ideal time for going up in a balloon.

* If the wind velocity on the ground exceeds eight miles per hour, abandon any attempts to take flight. The reason is that the balloon will not fill up smoothly, may be dragged along the ground, and damage the envelope.

* During descent, be wary of electric poles, wires and spires. Land only on clear ground.


Contestants battle in the:

* Hare and Hound Race; One balloon, the hare takes off and flies for a certain period of time. A short while later, the competitors, the hounds, follow. The winner is the one who lands his balloon closest to the hare.

* Spot-landing Race: Each competitor attempts to land closest to the predetermined target area. This is a ‘close race’ indeed!

* Cross Country Distance Event: The winner is one who has traveled the longest distance in a pre-fixed time. Contrary to belief, winning this race is not just a matter of luck, but a test of skill.