OCSENY, Hungary – A Central European aerostatic celebration soared towards the skies early Tuesday as a fleet of enthusiasts readied their hot air balloons before gently taking off as part of the 28th International Balloon Meeting in Ocseny, southern Hungary.
Modern balloons are a far cry from the 18th century ones built by brothers Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier in France, whose first passenger flight took place on Sept. 19, 1783, with a cautious passenger list consisting of a sheep, a duck, and a rooster.
The hot air balloon puts to work a physical law stating that heated air expands, so an enclosed volume of space will contain less air, thus making it lighter and, if its lifting power is greater, the expanded hot air will overcome weight of the balloon containing it and lift the balloon upwards.
A hot air balloon can only stay up as long as it has fuel for its burner and the air inside the balloon is kept hot enough – it immediately begins cooling as soon as the burner is shut down.
In brief, the height or altitude of a hot air balloon is controlled by turning the burner up or down.
The first tethered manned balloon flight was a larger Montgolfier balloon, sometime in mid-October, and the first free flight was conducted with the same balloon on Nov. 21, 1783.
Mankind’s fascination with aerostatic balloons continued during the next century, appearing in novels such as “Five Weeks in a Balloon” (1863) or “Around the World in Eighty Days” (1873), both by Jules Verne.
The Montgolfiers’ early hot air balloons used a solid-fuel brazier which proved less practical than the hydrogen balloons that had followed almost immediately, and hot air ballooning soon died out.
In the 1950s, the convenience and low cost of bottled gas burners led to a revival of hot air ballooning for sport and leisure.
Ed Yost redesigned the hot air balloon in the late 1950s using rip-stop nylon fabrics and high-powered propane burners to create the modern hot air balloon.
His first flight on such a balloon, lasting 25 minutes and covering 5 kilometers (3 miles), took place on Oct. 22, 1960 in Bruning, Nebraska.
Most balloons consist of a basket, gondola, or capsule suspended beneath the main envelope for carrying people or equipment (including cameras and telescopes, and flight-control mechanisms).
The event in Ocseny sees a form of competition known as the Hare and Hound race. The “Hare” balloon takes off before the “Hound” balloons and flies with multiple altitude changes to make it more difficult for the chasing balloons to match its flight path.
After a set amount of flight time, the Hare will land and typically lay out a target cross for the Hounds to drop weighted markers near – the distance between a pilot’s marker and the target determining his or her score.
Many balloonists recite “The Balloonists Prayer,” often with a champagne toast:
“The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with its warm hands. You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother Earth.”