Balloon Ride in San Diego

For her birthday, I treated Trisha to a Hot Air Balloon Ride in North County San Diego. We flew on Sunday afternoon, September 25 with Sky’s the Limit. We recommend them highly.

When people think of a balloon ride, and they have never done it, they don’t realize that it’s an adventure of multiple dimensions, not just climbing into a flying machine and doing a flight.

The preparation, the planning, the decision of where to take off and where to land, all are involved and complex. Watching the crew drive to the launch site, where there will likely be other crews setting up their balloons at the same time, lends some excitement. There is nothing like watching the basket unloaded, the balloon stretched out over a field, getting it inflated, and feeling the heat of the flame for the first time, to get the adrenaline pumping.

Here is a picture of the balloon just before the pilot started heating it up. You see him inside the balloon, doing a quick inspection.

Shortly before jumping in the basket, we have time to get a picture taken:

After watching and observing all the preparations, the actual launch happens almost within seconds and there is not enough time to take all the pictures and reflect. Here are the happy ballooners, seconds before leaving:

Next thing you know, you’re high above the field, looking down on the other balloons and the ants (people) around it.

I took my GPS with me, and I am excited that I did. I now have a profile. Here is a picture of the route. As always, you can click on the picture to enlarge and hit the browser back button to get back to the article.

We launched off Manchester Road in Encinitas (blue arrow), flew due south-east and landed on an empty brush field, right past a housing development (green arrow).

Below is the elevation map. You can see, at the peak, we reached about 4300 feet.

You can also see that we lifted up and rose to 2000 feet straight up, rapidly, then fast to 4000, and stayed there most of  the time. Just before landing, we dropped rapidly and then came in horizontally.

Below a detail of the map after take off:

Right after take-off, we drifted southwest, away from our take off site. Then the wind blew us back over it, so we could, for quite a while, stare straight down.

Here is a quick one, seconds after take-off:

Then, a minute later, looking down to where we just left. Believe it or not, the two balloons you see were on  the ground to either side of us when we lifted up from the space right between them. You can still see  the empy mat where our balloon was blown up as a white spot under the blue balloon:

Here is Trisha, looking out over Rancho Santa Fee, from an altitude of perhaps 1500 feet:

Our route takes us over Rancho Santa Fe, the second wealthiest community in the United States (looking down on mansion after mansion) and then Fairbanks Ranch, the first wealthiest community in the United States. The pilot pointed out some homes of people we all know, Bill Gates and the like. You can’t see those from any road.

Looking out in the other direction, the three balloons that launched after us are following:

Finally, we’re landing:

When you look at the chart, you can’t see the excitement. We came in from the upper left, dropped down to where the wind finally blew due east, to our landing site. The only way the pilot has to steer is to rise or lower, and follow the wind in. The crew on the ground tests the wind direction, and the pilot and the crew communicate via walkie-talkie. When he is properly lined up, and the wind blows in the correct direction, he stays at that exact altitude for the final approach. You can see the jockeying on the left lower side of the chart. Then we drifted over a neighborhood (you can see the streets there), and I wish I could have taken a picture – it was too exciting then. We were so close over the tile roof tops of these homes, it felt like we could grab their chimneys and we could definitely look into their windows. I wonder what the people living there think about every night as balloons drift over their heads close enough to throw a ball into the basket – if they tried.

They land on this same little field every time, after a 9 mile flight from the launch site, all done by gauging the wind at various altitudes and rising and lowering at just the right times. It’s one thing to land a balloon in a vast prairie in New Mexico, it’s another thing to jump over a community of homes, dodge a few power lines, and land on a field before the eucalyptus grove just beyond, all without any power but the wind.

It’s an art, and it’s something to watch and experience.

When we were down, the excitement continued when we got to watch the other three balloons come in all around us. Here is one:

Check out the roof line (horizon) and the power pole right by the basket. He made it and here he is:

When it got dark, if you shot carefully, you could get great pictures of the balloons coming in for a landing. Trisha snapped this one:

When can we go again?

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