Its like a childs 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
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
New Delhi 110 003
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
* 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.