F  L  Y  I  N  G

I have been a pilot most of my adult life. I first started flying when I was in high school.  The first airplane I flew was an Aeronca Chief.   The Chief was a two place, fabric covered aircraft with side by side seating.  Most training aircraft of the period had what is called tandem seating, with the student in the front seat and the instructor sitting in the rear seat.  The side by side seating in the Chief made it much easier to communicate between student and instructor.  But I will admit, when I look a Chief today, I wonder how we fit.

Following service in the US Army, I was able to train under the GI BIll and added a commercial pilots license with ratings for both single and multi engine fixed wing aircraft, and flight in instrument flight conditions (ASMEL/I in pilot speak).  Following the Vietnam war there was a glut of ex-military pilots with much more experience in high performance aircraft, so although I obtained a commercial license, I chose to fly mostly for recreation.

Through the years I have owned a variety of aircraft, everything from low and slow fabric covered aircraft to high performance twin engine aircraft.
Following my retirement I was able to get my son-in-law interested in flying. In December of 2006 he obtained his private pilots license.  After being dissatisfied with the local flying club we decided to buy an aircraft for recreational flying.  The result of our search was the aircraft you see here.

It is a Piper Cherokee 140, manufactured in 1964.  This aircraft was originally built as a two seat aircraft but had been upgraded to add two additional seats. The photo above was actually taken when we went to inspect the aircraft prior to purchase.  Thats me, opening the cowling for a better look inside.  Note the aircraft is equipped with wheel fairings.  Many older aircraft have had them removed through the years because of damage or to allow easier access to the brakes and tires for maintenance.



To the casual observer it would be difficult to tell, but the panel had been significantly upgraded through the years.  Fuses have been replaced with circuit breakers, addition of a moving map display, and upgraded solid state digital radios, including GPS.  The radio stack was one of the things that attracted us to this particular aircraft.

I have always tended to go a little overboard with the avionics in my airplanes, and this one followed that trend. If you compare the two photos above you can see some of the upgrades that Danny and I did in the 3 years that we owned this airplane.  We re-arranged the radio stack and added an approach approved GPS in addition to the existing enroute GPS, replaced the old bow tie control yokes with newer rams horn yokes with PTT switches, and installed a complete new interior (leather seats and side panels, new carpet & plastics). We also replaced the windshield and had the aircraft weighed and a new empty weight and balance calculated.

A Different Kind of Flying

In the mid to late 80’s there was a hot air balloon rally held at our local airport (the only time this event was held).  My wife mentioned that she would like to go for a ride in a balloon so we went out to the airport.  The traffic was HORRIBLE!!  After sitting in traffic for what seemed like forever, we gave up and turned around and came back home.  Our anniversary was coming up in a few weeks so I arranged for a local balloonist to come to our home on the morning of our anniversary and give my wife, daughter, and I a ride.  The balloon was owned and operated by a husband and wife team.  As we were setting up for takeoff I discovered that the husband was also a fixed wing pilot.  He talked with his wife, who would be acting as pilot that morning, and suggested she let me try flying the balloon once established at altitude.  It was totally different than the flying I was used to but it was great fun!  That night I asked my wife what she thought of selling the twin engine aircraft we owned at that time and buying a balloon.  She agreed, so a 12 year adventure flying hot air balloons began.
The balloon I bought was a Firefly 8B, manufactured by the Firefly Balloons, in Statesville, North Carolina.   I had been a fan of the Star Trek TV series when I was a kid, so I named the balloon “Airship Enterprise”.   When we first bought the balloon, we hauled it and the support equipment around in the back of a pick up truck.  That worked okay when I was flying locally, training to add a hot air balloon rating to my pilots license.  But once I got the rating and we started traveling to other locations it just wasn’t practical.  We got caught in the rain at one rally with no way to protect the equipment.  It was extremely difficult to find a facility large enough to dry out the envelope.  So when we got home I ordered an enclosed trailer to store and transport the balloon and all the equipment associated with it.  Just hook up and go.  Everything safe, dry, and most importantly, you knew you had everything you needed with you.

The first thing you learn when you start ballooning is that it is a team effort.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to set up, fly, and recover a hot air balloon by yourself. I was fortunate in that my family and friends were always willing to help me operate and fly the balloon.

Launching a Hot Air Balloon

You obviously want to pick an open site, clear of any nearby obstacles, especially power lines.  The surface needs to be as smooth as possible to prevent damage to the envelope.

After you attach the burner supports to the basket you can attach the burner and pull the assembled bottom end onto it’s side, with the burner pointing down wind.  Place the envelope storage bag on the ground a few feet away and open it.  Then you can attach the suspension cables for the envelope to the basket.

Be sure to use a quick release of some type to secure the basket to some sturdy object to prevent the basket from being drug across the ground during inflation.

Then you pick up the envelope storage bag and walk down wind, letting the envelope pull out onto the ground.  There is a line attached to the ring at the top of the envelope called the crown line.  It is longer than the overall length of the envelope and should extent down wind also.

One person should be assigned to keep a steady pull on the crown line during inflation to help stabilize the envelope.  Once the envelope fabric is lying on the ground, carefully spread it to the sides, taking care not to step on the fabric.

Start the gasoline engine powered fan and inflate the envelope with ambient temperature air.  If available, someone should hold the throat of the envelope open to help direct the airflow from the fan into the envelope.

Some times the weight of the air filling the envelope will hold the folds of fabric in contact with the ground, preventing the envelope from inflating smoothly.  It may be necessary to walk along both sides of the envelope as it is being inflated and gently pull the fabric from beneath the inflating envelope.

Be sure the envelope is fully inflated before proceeding.

Now comes the fun part!

Open the fuel valve on one tank and light the burner pilots.  Direct the burner towards the center of the throat of the envelope and squeeze the blast valve. Take care to keep the flame centered in the opening.

When the pilot fires the burner the inflation fan should be shut off to prevent blowing the flame out of position.  If the envelope has not been fully cold inflated it is possible for the fabric to be pulled into the burner flame by the low pressure area caused be the intense flame.

The burner on my balloon had an output of 27,000,000 BTU’s of heat.  The furnace in an average residence has an output of around 100,000 BTU’s.

The envelope will slowly begin to rise off the ground as the air inside is heated.

As the envelope begins to move the person on the crown line should continue to pull, moving towards the basket as the envelope moves to vertical.  The function of the crown line to to act as a “shock absorber” to prevent the envelope from picking up too much momentum, going beyond verticle, and oscillating back and forth.

As the balloon comes vertical, the crew members gather around the basket to add their weight to the basket.  The pilot has to be careful not to get the internal temperature too high to prevent the balloon from lifting off prematurely.

As the passengers board, the pilot will continue to fire the burner in short blasts, to maintain the balloon at equilibrium.

Once all passengers are aboard, a few more blasts on the burner and its

“Up, Up, and Away”


( AKA “Baby Balloon” )

Starship is an ultra-light balloon that I designed and constructed. The initial design work was done using CAD software. I would like to thank Charlie Gardner for taking the time to show me how to calculate panel dimensions using CAD, as well as answering a lot of questions that probably sounded dumb to him.

The envelope is constructed of coated rip-stop nylon and contains approximately 28,000 cubic feet of air when inflated. Four hundred linear yards of 60 inch wide material were used in the construction of the envelope. In order to ensure a smooth shape, with minimum waste, all of the fabric had to be split to 30 inch width. Thats a LOT of cutting with a hot knife. The panels were cut to size using a hot wire saw (any Varieze builders out there?).

Of course, once you have all the fabric cut, then you’ve got to sew it together. And sew, and sew, and sew… First, the panels are sewn together with a double row to chain stitching to form vertical gores. Then the gores are chain stitched together to form the basic envelope. Then vertical load tapes are lock stitched on top of each gore seam. I never could have gotten all the sewing done without the help of Sheryl Lucas. Thanks Sheryl. Also, Gina Marie of The Repair Works, in Statesville, NC was kind enough to allow me to use her cutting tables and equipment during the envelope construction process. There is just no substitute for having the right tools and equipment and lots of space to maneauver all the fabric.
A modified balloon Works burner is used for power. Major modifications include the addition of a valve to the bottom of the burner can to control the back-up burner and remote location of the blast valve handle. The burner is attached to a 22 inch diameter load ring which also acts as an attachment point for the envelope. The fuel tank is attached to the load ring via two 1.5 inch diameter aluminium tubes which are bent at 90 degrees.
Fuel is stored in a single 8 gallon aluminium Worthington tank. A second dip tube had to be added to the tank for liquid pickup. The originial valves were replaced with UL approved quarter turn ball valves. A quick disconnect refueling adapter is fitted on the burner side of the main liquid pickup. This not only aids in refueling, but also allows an auxilliary fuel tank to be attached for inflation or extended tether operations.

A custom harness is used support the pilot during flight. The harness consists of a padded sling that supports the pilots weight as well as sholder, waist, and crotch straps to provide restraint and security. Quick adjust fittings are provided on all straps to make it easy to accomodate different size pilots. The harness was assenbled using webbing and fittings used in aircraft seatbelt and shoulder harness construction.

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1 Comment

  1. frank chew

    What fun the balloon must have been. My wife always wanted to try it but me, not so much.7 years at ARC was real fun. Lots of good memories. Thanks for the photos. Frank


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