NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
24 Mar 1999
Stereo=1; Split track
Show: Geographic Century
Log of DAT #: Schantz
Let me first start off by getting your names and what each of you do.
Okay, well my name is Rob Schantz, that¿s S-C-H-A-N-T-Z, and we¿re in the hot air balloon business. We promote balloon events. I sell balloon insurance and we fly corporate contracts.
And we sell balloon rides. And I¿m Jetta, J-E-T-T-A Schantz, S-C-H-A-N-T-Z, and I work with my husband Rob on all those aspects he just mentioned and I also hold 27 national and 27 world records in hot air ballooning.
Jetta, I have to ask you. Was Jetta always your name?
Yes, it was. Little did my mother know where my paths would lead. It¿s a great aviation name.
Well, let me ask either one or both of you. What¿s your take on Piccard and Jones? Are you just a little bit surprised that somebody finally did it?
I am excited that it was done and nobody got hurt in the whole process. There was so much luck involved in what they did. The odds, according, I was involved with one of the other teams as a search and rescue coordinator that did not get off the ground this winter. They did last winter. And our weatherman, Bob Rice, who is literally the best in the world, you know, said, ¿Basically, it¿s a 1 in a hundred chance for this to happen, because you¿re so far out in advance and you cannot predict the weather.¿ And if you talk to either one of those guys that made it, they¿ll tell you, they were lucky. There was so much luck, they had the equipment, you know, but..
They had the skill, they had the technology, but the weather is what¿s defeated everyone so far, until them. It¿s so exciting.
You know, Jetta, I missed kind of part of what you said. Could you reconstruct what you followed on Rob saying? Were you surprised that somebody finally made it and I think Rob said it was a lot of luck for one thing.
Oh, it was certainly a lot of luck but luck in the sense of the weather conditions. The, Bertrand and Brian, who just successfully completed the flight had all the technology and skill needed to accomplish the feat, just like so many of the others that had tried, but weather conditions were what brought almost every single attempt before down. It was either a technical malfunction or difficulty or weather, but most often weather, and they just got lucky and got the right weather pattern. And we¿re all, I think everyone in the sport of ballooning worldwide is just as excited as can be that this finally happened. The last great challenge in all of aviation.
So you¿re saying that all the other attempts, and there were so many, really, the reason that they didn¿t make it and these folks did was weather.
Sometimes it was technical problems, especially with some of the early attempts, but many times it was weather that forced people to come down.
Do you feel badly at all about the others, Steve Fossett?
No, I, Steve is a really, I know Steve personally, and really a great person and a great individual and, you know, he tried five times and he¿s an adventurer, and he gave it his best shot and he just didn¿t make it and Branson and Paralindstrom were the same. It¿s one of those things. I guess I¿m sort of, it¿s an odd situation that the two guys that made it were both doctors and I guess they¿re both psychiatrists and they were using self-hypnosis and so forth, I just think it¿s great that that happened and they¿re just really two laid back guys, as is Fossett and them, but they didn¿t really have the money that Branson and them did, and they were, they were the underdog. I wish it would have been an American on board, because it would have gotten a lot more press, I think, in the US than it did if there had been an American. But still, hey, these guys made it, they flew almost 29,000 miles in a balloon. I don¿t know if you have been on a balloon ride, but that is absolutely hard to even comprehend in my mind, and they did it.
When you consider that the average balloon ride covers 4 to 6 miles and lasts around 45 minutes to just imagine flying for 20 days and over, you know, close to 29,000 miles in capsule with another person and you don¿t ever land, you don¿t get a break from it, you can¿t really go to sleep, although with the two of them, they would take turns resting. I mean, it¿s just nonstop flying, it¿s, (RS: stress, stress). There¿s no autopilot in this situation, you¿re flying and you¿re staying on top of your equipment constantly and the weather and fuel levels. It¿s such an amazing challenge that they met.
Let¿s talk about the Piccard-Jones team. Do you know Piccard?
We have met him. We were very fortunate several years ago, we got to participate because of Jetta¿s world records in the first hot air balloon event ever in Malaysia. And there were 18 countries represented there and he was part of one of the teams that came over to fly balloons as was Alan Noble, his flight director. So we got basically to hang out with him for a week and know him. Do we know him real well? No, but a good person that you could just tell he was a good person from the time we spent with him.
What¿s he like, besides being a good person?
Just a laid-back type guy. He wasn¿t really..
An average person like you and me. If you met him at a party or in a social setting, you would just say, ¿Hey, you know, a regular guy.¿ Nothing that would really make you feel like, ¿Oh, here¿s someone totally special.¿
And most of the people are. You know, Steve Fossett was the same way. They, everybody is that we¿ve met at ballooning. Nobody, ballooning is a great equalizer. And I think that¿s part of this whole mystique about the sport.
Piccard has a famous grandfather.
Yes, (JS: famous family all around) his father did what you did. He took, I believe he did some underwater exploration in some kind of capsule or something at one time. And then his grandfather, I believe, took a balloon to, you know, ultimate heights. And his, one of his nephews, uncles, Jetta knows this.
Bertrand¿s father is a twin brother to Don Piccard of the United States¿ father, and it was Don Piccard here in the US, his father and mother did a lot of early ballooning exploration and set many records and accomplished a lot of firsts, so Bertrand, there in Switzerland, and Don Piccard here in the US are actually cousins. And Don Piccard here in the US flew a balloon over the English Channel when Bertrand was only 5 years old, and I heard him speak the other day and he said, ¿If you had asked me that time when I was flying over the English Channel if anyone would ever fly a balloon around the world nonstop, I would have laughed at you, but if you had asked my cousin Bertrand, who was 5, he probably would have piped up, `I¿ll do it!¿¿ So it¿s a very famous family with a lot of rich ballooning and scientific history among them.
Auguste Piccard set those records and also invented something very important, didn¿t he?
Yes, that¿s correct. They had a lot to do with the early technology of hot air ballooning and I think if I remember correctly, they were responsible for inventing one of the first balloons that used some amount of plastic in it. I¿m not 100% sure on all of the technical side of it.
There used to be a manufacturer, Don Piccard used to have a company called Piccard Balloons, and there are still several of those still flying right now.
Very durable. They¿ve lasted for decades.
And then there was the pressurized cabin.
Right. That¿s, it¿s funny, a lot of the people thought for this record to really happen that they were gonna have to go really high and a couple of the teams were planning to do that, but when you¿re low, even though they were at 34,000 feet, they were still, you know, going around and skirting thunderstorms, and again, there was about a 1 in a hundred chance of them making it even though they had the pressurized cabin. Several of the teams, as you know, wanted to go to like to 120 to 130,000 feet to get way above everything and sort of let the Earth rotate underneath them, but they just never were able to get it off. They were in Australia, I know, trying to get off the ground, but, you know, the weather, it was just windy down there all the time and they just couldn¿t pull it off.
And it was in fact Auguste Piccard who invented that pressurized cabin.
I just learned something from you. There you go.
Well, let¿s talk a little bit about the history of ballooning and just lighter than air travel. How far back does that go?
Ballooning was the first form of manned flight in 1783 by the Montgovier brothers, there were two of them and they had a sister, who I claim was used to sew the balloon together¿
I always say she probably taught them everything they knew.
But back then they thought what made the balloon go up, what, they were at their fireplace and they watched the ashes going up from the fire and they thought the smoke was actually what made the lift, so if you see any of the old pictures or drawings of balloons from that period of time, there¿s a lot of smoke involved `cause they actually had on-board fires, they were using straw and manure and limbs to make smoke to make the balloon go, which really wasn¿t what was making it rise. It was the hot air, `cause you¿re heating, it¿s a very basic, simple concept, you heat the air on the inside of the balloon hotter than the air on the outside and then you go up.
One of the drawbacks of those early balloons was that many of them caught fire, so they weren¿t reliable.
See back in that period of time, people just didn¿t realize, you know, they saw the trees and they didn¿t know that anything could live above the trees, even though they saw birds, the trees grew so high and that was it. So the first passengers actually were not humans, they were animals and in order to get someone to actually go up and on a balloon ride, they went and got a convict named Rosier and offered him a pardon if he would go and fly on this balloon, so he was the actually, the first passenger to fly in a hot air balloon and unfortunately, he was the first fatality 4 or 5 or 6 flights later when he got killed in a hot air balloon crash.
And then today, the type of balloon that has just flown around the world is named the Rosier Balloon, after him and that¿s¿
A lot of people don¿t realize that it was a very special type of balloon that accomplished this feat. It was not a gas balloon, which is the enclosed cylinder filled with helium or hydrogen and it was not a hot air balloon, which is an open type cylinder that¿s constantly being heated, the air inside is constantly being heated by the propane. It was actually a combination of the two. It had a helium enclosed cylinder at the top and then it had a big open air portion at the bottom that the propane constantly kept that air hot and it was able to keep the helium at a constant temperature to where, as the sun went up or came down, the helium wasn¿t expanding and contracting and losing its lift, and that type of balloon didn¿t even exist until about ten or twelve years ago, and when it was created, the combination of hot air and helium, it was actually named in honor of Rosier.
1783 would seem to a lot of people maybe seem like a late date in history for people to be catching on to this. Isn¿t there some speculation that earlier cultures knew something about balloons?
I am not aware of that. I have not heard of it. I¿ve been around this sport now for 25 years. It¿s possible there could have been, but I know that the Montgoffiers are the ones that got the credit. One thing about a balloon that is, that I learned recently and sort of fascinated, until 1954, the highest aircraft ever was a hot air, was a balloon, altitude wise. In 1954, a jet aircraft went through that altitude barrier. The balloon was, held altitude records until 1954, which I think is just a good little trivia thing that we talk about at parties.
And of course, as a mode of transportation, I guess balloons have one big problem. They couldn¿t be steered.
Well, correct. During the siege of Paris, they used balloons to fly mail out of the city, which was an interesting concept, and during the Civil War, as you probably know, they used balloons for the, to be like spotters, they would, you know, crank `em up and down on ropes about 3 or 400 feet and they could get a lay of the land and see where the enemy troops were and that was I think the first real use of balloons in warfare, unfortunately.
So they, as somebody sat about to try to solve this problem of unsteerability and they came up with the dirigible, right? Were dirigibles ever in serious competition with airplanes for commercial travel?
Well, back in the 30s with, you know, with the Graff Zeppelin and so forth, the Graff Zeppelin I think flew for 6, 7, 8 years with an unscathed record of safety. After the Hindenburg disaster, because from my understanding, the US had all the helium and they would not sell it to Germany at the time because of the Nazi Party being in power, they would not sell the helium to Germany, so they had to use hydrogen and hence the Hindenburg blew up and when that happened, the whole thing just sort of stopped right there.
But there are attempts being made now over in Europe to start air travel again in dirigibles, blimps. There¿s a company there trying to reinstitute the romance and beauty of flying by airship.
Actually it is called the Zeppelin Company and they¿ve built a prototype which is now flying and they¿re gonna start doing passenger rides, but I don¿t think we¿ll ever see that beautiful airship in the sky that used to fly back when and as you know, the US had 3 or 4 blimps, the Navy did, and all of them crashed and there were fatalities and it just was something they couldn¿t make happen.
Jetta, just as you were explaining about the possibility of recreating air travel by dirigible, a truck went by. Could you just restate that? What¿s going on there?
There¿s a company in Germany and they actually use the name the Zeppelin Company and they are in the process of building and trying to reinstate passenger travel on dirigibles, airships, blimps, whatever you want to call them, and they would like to see that as a passenger mode of transportation again. However, as Rob mentioned, I think that our society has become so needy of instant gratification that we must be there now as fast as we can. I don¿t think it¿ll ever be as successful as our commercial airlines or perhaps even train travel just because it¿s going to take longer than most people are willing to give of their time. But I think the romance and the adventure of it will draw a lot of people to the experience.
Another story on aircraft of blimps. During World War II, they used blimps to, used for convoy cover, and until 1960, the Navy actually had a blimp corps out there and during World War II there was never an Allied ship lost that had a blimp overhead as a spotter. And I think that¿s something that¿s rather unique.
Unmanned balloons are still in pretty widespread use for scientific research.
Right. Weather balloons, drug balloons, if you go down into the Keys, you see those big blimps going up and down 3000 feet on that rope just as a thing with radar on `em, but the weather balloons are constantly being used and there are just a lot of them up there all the time and they¿re up really high and they¿re huge, they¿re absolutely huge balloons.
Well, I guess after the Hindenburg, lighten than air travel just went back to ballooning and just became the realm of sport.
Well, what happened is (JS: it actually disappeared for a while). In the late 50s, the Navy contracted with Raven Industries for a potential ejection system for an aircraft so if a pilot would get shot down over enemy territory, he could, he could pop out of his aircraft, had a hot air balloon actually on his back, and he would hang up there until another plane would come and pick him out of the sky. The R and D was all done on it, but the Navy didn¿t buy it. But Raven Industries at that time decided to go ahead into the sport ballooning business, and in 1962, there were only six hot air balloons in the US. So this is a very new sport when you consider a new type of aircraft.
For being the oldest form of aviation, it has the reputation now of being the newest form of flight in a sense.
Well, tell me something about ballooning as a sport. How many people are involved and what¿s their motivation?
There¿s approximately 4000 pilots here in the United States and then several thousand in the rest of the world and it¿s primarily a hobby for most people, although some like ourselves do it full-time. I think the motivation is the thrill, the adventure, that sense of romance that you¿re stepping a little bit back into the past, slowing down. The fun for me, and I know a lot of pilots across the country would say the same thing, is that you never really know what that flight¿s going to bring your way. You know where you¿re going to take off from because you plan that based upon your wind conditions and weather conditions, but you don¿t know exactly where you¿re going to land because you fly at the mercy of the winds just like these guys who just went around the world. They were totally at the mercy of the winds as far as where they would end up and so it¿s a lot of fun. Every single flight is unique and different. You meet different people, where you take off from, you fly over a different terrain, and where you land, you never know who you might meet there, and then you get to share all of that with whoever¿s flying with you, whether it¿s that you¿re out with some friends for a fun flight or if you¿re in business selling rides to the general public, it¿s, it¿s just something really exciting to share every time you go up. There¿s never been a flight that I haven¿t had some unique experience or a delightful landing or learned something and I think that¿s what draws people to it, and what¿s fun about the sport of ballooning is that, as Rob mentioned earlier, it¿s a great equalizer. There¿s people from all walks of life, doctors, lawyers, teachers, plumbers, retired people, young people just starting out in their life and so it¿s very exciting. Men and women both, although there are fewer women pilots than male, but it¿s so much fun, all age groups, there¿s just a real sense of letting go. I tell people many times, ¿If you care where you¿re going and when you get there, call a cab. But if you don¿t care where you¿re going or when you might arrive, then just come jump in the balloon with me.¿
Kind of like sailing.
Very much so, except that we like much calmer, gentler winds than a sailor would.
Well, as you say, they¿re obviously not all rich. They¿re not all Richard Bransons and Steve Fossetts, but it does take some money, I guess.
It¿s, it¿s an expensive sport in some ways, but it¿s not any more expensive than someone who buys a really top-line fishing boat or ski boat or say they¿re into Harleys or, there¿s so many sports that could you compare it to. The average new balloon today, you¿re going to spend somewhere 15,000 and 25,000 dollars to purchase the aircraft. A lot of people don¿t realize that, but it is a certified aircraft through the FAA. We are licensed pilots and once a year all of our aircraft has to go to a FAA-certified repair station for repairs and annual inspection. So I think a lot of people look at hot air balloons as more like a carnival ride and they don¿t realize that it is an aircraft no different than one that has propellers and wings on it. So you have an investment, you have several, you know, 20, 30, maybe 40,000 dollars tied up in equipment by the time you had your chase vehicle radios, all the support equipment you need.
Can you rent one?
Actually, no. It¿s very rare. If you¿re gonna buy a, when you get into ballooning, there¿s a little saying, the first ride costs you 150 dollars, the second one costs you 15,000, because, when you, when people get into this sport, nobody gets up in the morning and says, ¿I think I¿m gonna become a balloon pilot.¿ But when you go for that first ride, if you get hooked like Jetta and I both did, you¿re hooked, and this is what happened to us. And no, you really can¿t rent `em. If you¿re gonna get into ballooning, you usually have to go out and figure eventually you¿re going to have to go out and buy one if you¿re gonna keep doing it. But there is a national organization called the Balloon Federation of America, which we all belong to, and, you know, there¿s a magazine that comes out and a newsletter and so forth, but it¿s, it¿s a real tight community. And I would just encourage anybody that has not been for a balloon ride to go for one because I think they would find something really unique.
Who was bitten by this bug first?
Me. Well, I¿m older, though.
We actually met through ballooning. He was, first got into the sport when he lived in Cincinnati, and eventually moved here to Jacksonville, Florida. I¿m originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where I took my first ride and it was 12 years ago when I was interviewing for a part-time position with one of Rob¿s balloon companies that we met and fell in love and I moved to Florida¿PERSONAL LIFE, BLAH,BLAH, BLAH
You¿re talking about these companies that balloons. How big an industry is it? Can you put a dollar figure on it?
A dollar figure, there¿s probably 6, 7 manufacturers of hot air balloons right now in the country. Aerostar, which is a subsidiary of Raven, is the most popular brand out there, (JS: the oldest and largest) the oldest and largest. You know, the Balloon Works, there¿s Cameron, there¿s Lindstrands, many different manufacturers. Aerostar last year, I believe, sold about 125 balloons new. Their peak year, for some reason, was in 1978, where they sold 300 plus. So the sport actually has been not in a decline but a stationary mode, but it¿s starting to pick up again now. We¿re seeing a lot more telephone calls coming in from people wanting to get licensed and get lessons and so forth.
What¿s it like up there in the balloon? Is it dangerous?
The only danger in hot air ballooning is flying when you shouldn¿t. Weather is the most critical factor and the one thing that I learned when I was a student pilot was that the best balloon pilots are those that really understand the weather and respect it. And so, knowing when not to fly is what you keeps you the safest. As far as during an actual flight, the only real danger are when, are power lines. That¿s our greatest fear as balloonists because they so often are strung through treetops and they¿re low and because we always fly right at sunrise and within the two hours before sunset when the winds are the most calm, you have that sun angle at such a level on the horizon that it does sometime obscure those power lines, but I¿ve been flying for, gosh, 11, 10, 11 years now, Rob for almost 25, and we¿ve never had any accidents or incidents, so I think it really boils down to the pilot being safe and planning a flight correctly and really being conscious of the weather and respecting it.
Well, on the positive side, just give me a feeling for what it¿s like.
Well, I think we should both tell you how we enjoy it. I love it because I can share it with people. I tried skydiving once in my life and loved that, but it was such an individual endeavor. The thing that I love about ballooning is that I can take people along in the basket and share the whole experience. It¿s more gentle than riding an elevator. It¿s beautiful. You¿re up above the world in a sense. It¿s like all your cares and worries can just melt away. It can be very quiet except when you have to hit the burner to keep the balloon flying aloft. You see so many things from a different perspective. I¿ll never forget one day when a bald eagle was circling our balloon and we finally realized as we came close to a stand of trees that it was an eagle trying to protect its nest that was right there that we were flying towards. I¿ve landed in fields. One of my favorite flights was landing in a field in Missouri and as we touched down in the high weeds, just this thousands upon thousands of butterflies rose up out of the field, so experiences like that, you just can¿t get from driving down a highway or going to a city park.
Jetta, we only have a few minutes left. Tell me something about your records.
I hold 27 national and 27 world records in hot air ballooning for, as a woman, for flying the greatest distance, duration, and altitude. It was actually three separate flights that broke all the records and probably the most memorable one for me was the altitude record which I did from NAS China Lake in California near Ridgecrest, and I went to 32,657 feet. What makes that unique is that no one had ever taken a stock balloon, in other words, this balloon that I flew was one right off the manufacturer¿s shelf. It had no modifications to the fuel or the burner system or the entire system itself and it was an open gondola, just like if you looked in the phone book today and called someone and said, ¿I want to go on a hot air balloon ride,¿ you would be flying in the same type of aircraft I took up that day.
That¿s about the cruising altitude of a 747.
Yes, it is. And it was, I actually had total burner failure at the peak point of the flight and free fell 14,000 feet going 1500 feet a minute and spinning 1 revolution every five seconds. There was a moment in that flight when I thought it might be my last, but luckily, after much perseverance and getting a little lower, I was able to get one of the burners relit and land safely.
It must have been kind of hard to breathe.
Well, I did wear oxygen. That¿s a requirement if you go over 12,000 feet.
One of the things that she¿s not telling you is during the flight when you go for, if world records were easy to break, everyone would have one or two. When she was up at that altitude, the balloon got really hot and part of it actually melted and she was looking at blue sky through the top of the balloon at 32,000 feet and when she free fell, we didn¿t know whether she was gonna have to bail out or not. She was wearing a parachute, but if you have to bail out and the aircraft crashes, the record doesn¿t count, but fortunately, everything worked out okay and she landed perfectly out in the Trona Pinnacles, out in California where they used to film Death Valley Days and she survived and got the record.
What¿s left for ballooning now that they¿ve circumnavigated?
What¿s left for ballooning, well, what¿s happening in the sport, there¿s a lot of balloon events. We¿ve put on balloon events and people by the thousands come. Albuquerque Fiesta is an example in October is the largest outdoor event in the world. Their spectator draw was approximately 2 million people last year. It¿s the most photographed event in the world. Balloons are the most photographed thing in the world. We put on 30, 40, 50 balloon races around the country. You know, Montana, Virginia, California, and we¿ll draw anywhere from 40, 50, 60,000 people over a weekend because it¿s just so fun. You know, to see one balloon is really neat, to see two is, wow, there¿s two, but 40 or 50 in one place, really I encourage anybody that knows where a balloon race is, come out and see it. In fact, we actually used to put a race on up at Andrews Air Force with their air show every May. We did that for four years in a row, but then the Air Force changed some of their regulations and we no longer do that.
As far as records go, I guess there¿s altitude records left.
To get into altitude records, you¿re starting to talk major, major money. These guys went around the world, millions of dollars were spent on these projects. The kind of records that Jetta has, we self-funded all these ourselves. To do an altitude record, I think the record right now in a balloon is like 130,000 feet. Whether that¿s gonna be broken or whether anybody wants to do it, it¿s just hard telling. (JS: And that one was sponsored by the military.) Yeah, that was a military thing, so it¿s, I just really don¿t know what other records are out there.
There¿s a lot of smaller, I hate to say the word smaller, but I can¿t think of a better descriptive term. Smaller records that fall into the categories where I¿ve set records that I think people will continue to set, but as far as what¿s referred to as an absolute world record, these guys pretty much notched it. I can¿t see, I mean, there¿s no reason, I would be hard pressed to think that there¿s a reason someone would want to stay up in a balloon for longer than 20 days or go more miles than these two gentlemen covered, so it¿ll be interesting to see what happens, but as we all know, never say never on something.
I have heard rumor of an around the world race potentially being planned. I don¿t know if that¿s really gonna come together or not. I do know that one of the things about the record this year, I don¿t know if you¿re aware of it, but Budweiser put up a million dollar purse for this feat. Half of it went to a charity, then half they get, and that had to be done by 1999, so they then succeeded in doing that, so you might find a sponsor out there one day that would sponsor an around the world race, but it would be a big dollar project.
What¿s on your horizon, Jetta? Any more records?
Oh, sure, I would love to. I have a few little ideas tucked away and some goals and dreams I¿d like to accomplish. However, sponsoring the first three attempts out of our pocket and waving bye-bye to all of our retirement and savings to accomplish it, I¿m looking for a sponsor at this point. BLAH BLAH BLAH
What¿s the sound like up there? What do you hear?
Well, if you get up 5 or 6 or 7000 feet, it is a totally unique experience. When you¿re not having the burner on, if nobody¿s talking, you¿re just sitting there, it literally, when you talk, it almost feels like someone¿s taken your eardrums out, because you really can¿t hear anything. There¿s no ground noise, there¿s no noise. And unless you¿ve really experienced it, it¿s hard to explain, but literally, when you even talk to each other, it¿s like, what are you saying? It¿s hard to even comprehend how it is. You gotta get up high enough to get away from total ground noise, but all you hear is just you and the balloon. And that¿s all there is up there and you¿re going as fast as the wind so there¿s no noise and when you talk, again, it¿s sort of like somebody pulled your eardrums out.
You¿re saying your voices sound extremely loud to each other.
Different. I don¿t know if it¿s loud, but it¿s different, and you¿ll also begin to hear things with the aircraft that you wouldn¿t hear at a lower altitude. You hear the wicker baskets creaking as they¿re suspended in air, you¿ll hear the sound of the burners almost, you get that sensation that you¿re feeling and hearing the insides working on those burners. It¿s really strange. You¿ll hear the fabric kind of rustle a little bit.
But a lot of people would think that it would be windy, but of course, it¿s not, because, as you say, you¿re in the pocket of wind, so it¿s absolutely silent.
Right. Actually, you could be literally, be going a hundred miles an hour and light a match and it wouldn¿t get blown out because as fast as the wind.
People don¿t realize that and they also think that it¿s really cold when they go on a balloon flight because they¿re going up the air, but it¿s not because you¿re flying with the wind, you don¿t have that sensation of a breeze cooling your skin. Many time we¿re really warmer up in the balloon during the flight than we were on the ground when we took off.
Just one more thing. The astronauts talked about coming back with a different perception of the Earth without boundaries and so forth. Do you get any feeling of that when you¿re up there?
Maybe a tiny bit on a regular flight where we¿re somewhere between 500 and 2500 feet off the surface. Where I really experienced it has been in some of my world record flights because I¿ve gone much higher. For the distance flight, I flew most of that flight over 10,000 feet. Of course, the altitude flight was over 30,000 feet. And then my duration flight was over 15 hours, the majority of which was flown at night in total darkness. Those flights gave me a different perception of being over the Earth, especially the altitude flight. When I landed, someone asked me a similar question, and I think my best answer at the time, ¿I felt as if I had touched the face of God.¿ There was just something so moving about being that high up in our atmosphere, in a sense above the clouds, above the noise, seeing so far, just being able to look out and see to the very edges of the horizon in a sense. (RS 42:58: In an open gondola.) Well yes, in an open gondola, so it was like, just sort of being up there suspended in time and place and it does, it changes your feeling about things.
And you can¿t see boundaries or political divisions, you can¿t even see state lines.
That¿s absolutely right. When I did the distance flight, I took off from Oklahoma and landed just right on the banks of the Mississippi River in Arkansas and I couldn¿t have told you when I crossed from one state to another. I knew when I was flying over large cities. I had a map with me, so I knew where I was, but at the same time, you look down and all I really saw was just the patchwork of the farmers¿ crops and roads and rivers and streams and deep forest and it was just an experience that¿s it¿s very hard to put into words, but you do feel it in your heart and you feel in your spirit as you¿re flying along and you just see all that beauty rolling along beneath you.
It¿s just a, it¿s just a thing of beauty and peace and it¿s really sorry right now with all the stuff going on in the world. You know, I just think if these guys that are sitting around this conference table over in Kosovo would all get into a balloon together and go for a balloon ride, I bet these problems would all be solved because it would just change things. It would change their attitude and their outlook.
What it¿s like to fly through clouds, small talk