Have you ever seen a blue sky filled with hot air balloons? Their rainbow colors expand creating a scene that can take your breath away! It’s hard to believe when watching them float lazily up and away that they are competing in balloon races. It must be the slowest race in the world! Can you just imagine the start of the race? Ready! set! Float!
The fact is a hot air balloon race is not a race in the way one might expect. There is no waving of the start flag or firing of a starter pistol. The balloons don’t actually “race ” at all. A balloon race is more a group of competitions. The flight is usually about an hour, during which the participants compete to see who can be most accurate.
Some of the competitions include:
Hare and Hounds
One balloon launches first and alone and is the designated “Hare” They try to fly in a pattern that would be difficult to follow. Upon landing they lay out a target on the ground. About twenty minutes after the Hare has lifted off, the rest of the balloons follow. They are called the “Hounds” The hound that drops a marker or lands closest to the target wins.
This competition is called Convergent Navigational Task. With this competition a large X is the target. It is placed in the balloon festival site usually. Then the pilots launch from wherever they want as long as it’s the specified distance ,(1-3 miles) from the target.
As they approach the target they drop their markers and receive a score according to the distance from the marker to the X.
A key grab is like the CNT with one major difference. Instead of an X there is a ring attached to a pole. The first pilot that grabs the ring wins
There are many other kinds of competitions and contests. Often a competition involves a mixture of two or three kinds.
Being a spectator at these balloon races is an awesome experience all on it;s own.But for some,the only way to watch a balloon race is from right in the middle of it, as a participant! Special preparations are essential. Gaining the experience to fly a balloon takes a lot of commitment and ongoing training. Some things you need to do are:
1. Find a reliable pilot that will take you for a flight. Make sure you like it out in the wild blue yonder as much as you think you do before buying your own system
2. Do some research. Find out what kinds of systems are available. This can be like choosing a car. You take into account what your needs are. Do you want room for 2 passengers or more? Research the fabrics used in the envelope. The “envelope” is the part that lifts when air is forced into it. It is what most see as the actual balloon.
Choose the basket or gondola. This is the part that holds the passengers and is usually made of rattan wicker. Next familiarize yourself with the fuel units and how they work. Be sure to chose the proper flight instruments. The panel for ballooning includes an “Altimeter.” This will measure barometric pressure to determine the altitude of the balloon. The “Rate of Climb” or “Variometer” measures changes in pressure to determine your speed up The “Envelope Temperature Gauge” gives a pilot the temperature of the fabric at the very top of the system. Plus the “fuel pressure gauge” helps the pilot determine burner efficiency.
3. Start training! Training flights go on in the off season, November through April. Look for an instructor that can show proof of his efficiency and safety record. The number of lessons needed depends on your individual needs. You not only need to learn how to operate the balloon but also how to read air patterns and wind speeds. Perfecting this skill is vital to successful ballooning. Another way to get some “on the ground” training is to become part of a flight crew.
4. Be Safe. Ballooning is a pretty safe sport over all. Take offs and landings occur at about 10 MPH. It is a fair weather sport and flying at the best times adds to your safety Never fly when winds are high or gusty. This is very important. There is a saying in the ballooning community “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than it is to be in the air wishing you were on the ground.” Also, watch out for power lines. Don’t wear lose clothing and stay clear of the burner
5. Join local ballooning groups. Search online for event schedules. After a while you will be sure to find a group to compete in. Soon you’ll be the one dropping that marker and riding the wind as you float on by in your beautiful balloon.