Many of you may remember the days of the World Honda Grand Prix, which was sanctioned by the Balloon Federation of America. The Hot Air Balloon World Honda Grand Prix was organized by the World Grand Prix Organization, TDS Aviation, and the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. Personnel organizing both the World Grand Prix and the Monroe Rally included Event Director Tom Sheppard, Operations Director Debbie Spaeth, Safety Officer Allen Yost, Meteorologists Lou Billones, Chief Scorer Jim Dieball, and Chief Measurer Saralyn Follis. The jury for the World Grand Prix included Jim Birk, Gary Lockyer and Masashi Kakuda.
It was an honor to host the event and to be involved with such talented individuals, who in many ways helped to shape competitive ballooning. Even though the third leg of the event does continue in Motegi, Japan, it is no longer the World Grand Prix, to which it was discontinued after the death of its creator and organizer Masashi Kakuda.
But even before the Grand Prix, the Monroe Balloon Rally was organized by Event Director Tom Sheppard and Operations Director Debbie Spaeth. They connected with the Monroe Chamber in 1986 to start the event. Tom and Debbie, who had started the first ballooning event in Wisconsin in Wisconsin Dells, served the Monroe Rally for nearly 20 years. Monroe is ever grateful.
Since the beginning of time, our eyes have always looked skyward. We have marveled at the freedom and challenges that the vast sky represents. Our history has chronicles of numerous attempts in which our ancestors crafted devices to be lighter than air. Their goal was to soar effortlessly among the clouds.
One of the purest ways that we have conquered this challenge is through the development of hot air ballooning. The history of ballooning can go well back into the 1800’s, but it became most practical and affordable back in the 1950’s when propane was harnessed as a source of heat.
Balloons are transported to the launch site either by truck or trailer. The vehicle carries the balloon, basket, propane tanks and other materials to help inflate the balloon. The basket which carries the pilot and passenger is most often made of wicker. This material is ideally suited for ballooning because of its strength and it is lightweight overall. Getting ready for the launch includes checking the propane tanks, attaching the framework to the basket, laying the basket on its side, and then spreading out and attaching the balloon envelope to the metal harness. Balloons are generally made of rip stop nylon and reinforced with strong nylon webbing. After the pilot checks to see if the propane burner is functioning, one crew member is dispatched to hold onto the top rope of the balloon while two other crew members hold the base of the balloon open.
This is when the excitement begins, the noise and power of a cold air fan begins to inflate the balloon envelope. When the envelope is sufficiently filled with cold air, the pilot then directs the blast of the propane burners into the belly of the balloon. With a few more short bursts of heated air, the balloon begins to stand upright and appears to anxiously await to go skyward. Once aloft, balloons can fly well above the clouds. However, the typical altitude is 500 to 1,000 feet.
One skill that a pilot must quickly master is timing. The balloon’s reaction time between the pull of the burner cord and directional change in altitude is delayed. Thus, the pilot must learn to anticipate the lag time. Each time a pilot flies, the conditions between the outside temperature and the temperature inside the balloon varies. According to FAA rules, each balloon must be equipped with special instruments before it can be licensed. Each properly equipped balloon must include the following: a pyrometer, which measures the temperature near the top inside of the balloon; a variometer, which reports the rate the balloon is traveling up or down; an altimeter, which indicates how high the balloon is flying. Each pilot must train and be tested before becoming licensed. Balloons generally fly during the calmest part of the day. The winds are most at ease just before daybreak and sunset. As a pilot prepares for take-off, a launch site is chosen. The ideal launch site is relatively level, such as a grassy field with shelter on its perimeter.
Ballooning is one of the safest air sports due to its slow flying speeds and simplicity. However, it can be exciting when landing. When preparing to land, the pilot must bring the balloon down slowly. A landing site in a smooth field adjacent to one of our Green County roads is ideal. In calm winds, the balloon descends with a final blow of the burner done approximately halfway down allowing the balloon to settle gently. Just before or even at touchdown, the top velcro panel or parachute top is pulled out and the balloon rapidly deflates. If it is windy the basket will tip to its side and be dragged. This cannot be prevented but with proper bracing of both pilot and passenger it can be ridden out safely. At the end of the flight, the balloon is met by its chase crew, who have been tracking the balloon from the ground with the assistance of radios. The crew is on hand to help with rebagging the balloon and loading it back onto the chase vehicle.
The Arc of Green County will ensure that by example, education, advocacy, support and legislation, all children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) and their families have the same basic right to education and job opprtunities.
The Arc of Green County board meets on the first Monday of the month at 6:00 pm, usually at the Monroe Public Library. Member dues are $10 a year. Our board includes members with I/DD and we welcome more people with I/DD to join.