Weather, weather everywhere
Although weather is always an issue when lighter-than-air flight is involved, it’s even more so for gas balloons, which are traditionally inflated with either hydrogen or helium.
With hot air balloons, the only “gas” involved is propane, which is used to fuel the burner that flares from time to time, keeping the air trapped inside the balloon “envelope” heated to a temperature that makes it lighter than the surrounding outside air. If the burner isn’t on, no gas is being used. The maximum duration of a hot air flight — usually about 2.5 hours — is determined by the amount of propane on board; flying for about an hour costs approximately $50 to $75 for fuel.
At the Thurston, which features more than 30 hot-air balloons, weather that is less than perfect can be accommodated.
“Sometimes,” Watts said, “we do short hops where we launch them for the sake of letting the crowd see them fly off.”
However, hydrogen balloons have to be completely filled with gas before each takeoff, eliminating the possibility of short, relatively inexpensive flights.
“When you spend a thousand dollars or so on hydrogen,” Watts said, “you don’t just want to pop the thing over the tree line and set it down, so you’re looking at a longer-term flight. You’re looking at three to four hours — or maybe overnight.”
In addition to the cost of the gas, longer flights mean that a greater distance will be covered, which in turn means that weather conditions over a much wider area must be taken into consideration.
“We have a meteorologist consulting with us on the gas balloon launch,” Watts said. “It’s much more complicated than a usual launch.”
If all goes as planned — and the weather cooperates — Padelt hopes to inflate the gas balloon during the pre-dawn hours on Saturday, leave it standing on the ground for people to check out and then launch around 8 a.m.
Mary Spicer can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.