My First Ever Experience Flying a Hot Air Balloon

Among all types of aircrafts, hot air balloon makes the oldest and the most exotic one. Invented in 1783 in France, hot air ballooning has ...

Among all types of aircrafts, hot air balloon makes the oldest and the most exotic one. Invented in 1783 in France, hot air ballooning has not really taken off as a mainstream mode of transportation due to its relatively low velocity and a huge dependency on weather, namely on wind. After all, a hot air balloon does not have a steering wheel, so your final destination not only relies on a pilot's skills and experience, but also on a fair amount of good luck. There are many places you can fly hot air balloons, but I figured Albuquerque, New Mexico would be the best place to try it since this is where the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot air balloon gathering in the world is hosted each year in October.

About a half dozen companies in Albuquerque offer hot air balloon flights on a daily basis, hence there are plenty of options to choose from. All have good reviews on TripAdvisor, so I guess you can't go wrong with any of them. We chose World Balloon mainly because of the price, but it turned out to be the oldest hot air balloon company in Albuquerque. Our pilot Murray was fantastic - very knowledgable and with a great sense of humour. 
On that day, I counted 18 balloons including the one we flew in. Albuquerque has a very predictable weather year around: it's mostly sunny, very little clouds and almost no rain (balloons don't fly in the thunderstorm and in the rain).
When you buy your hot air balloon ticket in Albuquerque, you buy a what is called an "experience". It includes seeing how an envelope (an inflatable part of a balloon) is being blown, the actual flight and after-party with champagne wine and sweats.
Why champagne wine? The story goes back to France in the 18th century. When the first balloons were introduced (remember there were no planes), they often landed on farmfields. Farmers, unfamiliar with such flying objects, deemed balloons evil dragons (mind you they operate with open fire) and often crashed them after the landing. King of France Louis XVI suggested pilots bring some champagne wine on board to please farmers. This worked well, and instead of breaking balloons farmers got drunk. This good tradition is still living to these days.
The ballooning "experience" started for us early in the morning at the parking lot of a shopping plaza. Big fans blew a hot air into an envelope.
It took about 5-10 minutes before the envelope got straight and was ready to go.
The cart looks really small (and it is in fact small), yet it fits 12 people. You can forget about your personal space though.
Did you know that the "passengers" of a first hot air balloon invented by Montgolfier brothers were a sheep, a duck and a rooster. No worries, they all made it safe back on ground.
Our balloon was the first one in the air that day (woo-hoo!).
Flying early in the morning ensures that you can enjoy a beautiful sunrise over the valley where Albuquerque sits with the Sandia Mountains surrounding it.
You can observe how the city is slowly waking up.
We flew over a house and it smelled a freshly fried bacon. Yummy!
You'll be amazed how quiet it is up in the air. You won't hear a sound of a wind, because you in fact fly with the wind.
Our balloon flew over the flood plains of the Rio Grande River. 
The most fun part was when we tried to touch the river with our cart. Unfortunately, we weren't so lucky, but we managed to scare a flock of geese instead.
The balloon landing requires a great deal of skills. Our pilot Murray was the most experienced within the entire crew, so he was instructing the other two pilots where the best places were to land their balloons.
Packing up the balloon was also part of the "experience", but this time with everyone's active participation.
Some statistics. The average speed was 2.71 mph / 4.36 km/h, the top speed was 6.78 mph / 10.9 km/h. The maximum altitude was 1449 ft / 442 m. The length of the flight was 3.2 miles / 5.2 km with a duration of 1 hour 10 minutes. 

My other posts about the trip to Colorado, New Mexico and Utah:

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