Many people have tried to describe the sensation of floating through the skies in a San Diego hot air balloon. The Balloonist's Prayer describes the sport as a spiritual experience, communing with the sun, the wind and Mother Earth. It is a magical experience, a boundless and free-floating trip in the early morning sunrise or evening sunset. Hot air balloonists in San Diego can float over San Diego beaches, lagoons, canyons and parks, hovering over wisps of clouds, frothy white caps in the sapphire-blue ocean, and endless stretches of coastline and lush, green valleys.
The first hot air balloon ride took place in front of the Palace of Versailles in 1783 with no people aboard, but a duck, a rooster and a sheep. It was witnessed by a French scientist Pilatre de Rozier and his friend the Marquis d'Arlandes. Two months later, the duo launched the first manned hot air balloon, flying successfully from the center of Paris about five miles to the outskirts of the city. With that, hot air ballooning was off to a flying start.
More than 200 years later it's possible to look up into the morning or evening skies above San Diego, La Jolla, Del Mar and other coastal cities and see a kaleidoscope of colors, often rising simultaneously. Year-round, the multi-hued hot air balloons (called aerostats) are floating gracefully through the San Diego sky, provided the wind is no stronger than eight miles per hour. From basket bottom to balloon crown, today's technically advanced hot air balloons are as tall as 7-story buildings - 70 feet high and 50 feet in diameter - and are made of rip-stop nylon. Hot air balloons in seem to float on the whim of the wind, yet licensed Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-certified aerostat pilots operate these huge sky crafts.
The hot air balloons you can book to go ballooning in San Diego are filled with hot air, which is heated and cooled, allowing the hot air balloon to rise or descend. Although the wind does most of the work, the pilot must make all the decisions and is responsible for the safety of passengers and the equipment. Often the pilot is the owner of the hot air balloon. All hot air balloon companies in San Diego and California are fully insured. The FAA and the Public Utilities Commission are the regulatory agencies governing this high-flying activity. During the adventure, the San Diego hot air balloon pilot keeps constant radio contact with a ground crew who charts the hot air balloon's progress and is ready and waiting to return the hot air balloon passengers to their cars at the end of the flight. So far, there have been no serious hot air balloon ride injuries in the San Diego area.
The basket that hangs from a hot air balloon is built to hold three to six passengers (depending on weight) and is sturdily constructed of wicker, with floors of oak or another strong wood. The rim of the basket is usually covered in a soft suede material (no splinters allowed). The size of the balloon varies with the size and weight of the basket, and the pilot reserves the right to limit the number of passengers in his or her particular basket. Each aerostat carries three to six tanks of lighter-than-air propane gas, and this gas is ignited to produce heated air which lifts hot air balloon riders in San Diego above local beaches and roads.
Just as the automobile driver adheres to the rules of the road, San Diego hot air balloon pilots obey the rules of the sky and the sport. For example, when two hot air balloons in San Diego Del Mar are on the same course, the lower of the two has the right of way. The logic behind this rule is that it's faster to ascend in a balloon than it is to descend; a burst of heat gives an immediate lift, whereas the cooling of the air, which lowers the balloon, takes much longer.
The toughest part of balloon trip in San Diego, however, is getting in and out of the basket gracefully. You should wear long pants, flat-soled shoes, and hats or some form of head covering. There's a burst of heat from the burner when the aerostat is first airborne and again when it needs another ''heating up'' to rise to a higher elevation. Since pilots stick to the rule of flying only when San Diego weather and winds are favorable, heavy clothing is not usually necessary, but dressing is layers is recommended.
People of all ages, including children and seniors, enjoy the spirit of the San Diego hot air balloon adventure. Because hot air balloons float, motion sickness is not a problem. For many people, ballooning has a therapeutic effect. Others enjoy the challenge of pushing themselves to places they didn't think they could reach.
Several local hot air balloon companies in San Diego provide one-hour balloon flights, with prices ranging from $160 to $220. A standard San Diego balloon flight adventure over Del Mar usually includes champagne or drinks and sometimes hors d'oeuvres as well. Some San Diego hot air balloon companies give flight certificates to commemorate the event. Check with the San Diego hot air balloon companies for special offers.
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