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Up, up and away


April 03, 2018

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If you are ever in Statesboro when the weather is just right, you are likely to see a hot air balloon flying in the sky.  The bright, vibrant colors demand everyone’s attention as it drifts above our heads.  When you spot one in the air for the first time, you will be flooded with questions like, “how does it work?” and, “what would it feel like to fly?”  For centuries, people have been riddled with the same inquisitions, and their hunger for answers is what gave life to hot air ballooning in the first place.

A Brief History

It all began in 1783 when two brothers named Joseph-Michael and Jacques-Ètienne Montgolfier experimented with lighter-than-air devices and studied the effects of heated air flowing into thin fabric.  Their observations led them to conclude that this type of air current would make the fabric rise.  They revealed their findings in a public demonstration in Annonay, France: a hot air balloon that was lined with paper and made of silk.  The balloon rose 5,200-6,600 feet and traveled around 1 mile before descending.

Later, on Sept. 19, 1783 a scientist by the name of Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier launched a hot air balloon called Aerostat Reveillon.  The first recorded passengers were a duck, a sheep and a chicken.  They flew in the air for about 10 minutes and then crashed to the ground.

In October of that year, the first manned attempt took place.  The balloon was made by the Montgolfier brothers, and Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier had the honor of being the first human passenger.  It successfully stayed afloat for about 5 minutes.  The modern era of hot air ballooning had finally arrived!

Hot Air Ballooning Today

Though the technology and equipment has evolved since the 1700s, the concept of hot air ballooning remains the same.  Hot air balloons rise when the air inside is hotter and less dense than the air outside.  The pilot heats the air in the canopy with a burner that is fueled by propane to give the balloon its lift.  Today, around 4,000 FAA regulated commercial hot air balloon pilots are licensed to fly in the US.  Among them is Statesboro native, Cameron Jones.  He is a second-generation pilot who claims he grew up sleeping on top of hot air balloon bags while his dad drove them across the country. 

“As a child, I didn’t understand the adventure that I was part of.   I had no idea that my friends weren’t doing the same cool stuff as me on Saturday mornings.  I didn’t have the same appreciation for it back then.  About five years ago, I was at an arts festival where I saw one and I had a rush of memories come over me from being around balloons and flying in them with family.  I knew right then that I had to get my license and start flying again,” Jones told Connect. 

Since then, he has found a way to continue the family tradition by bringing his twin girls, Arabella and Adelene, along for the adventures. 

Jones is earning his master’s in Business at Georgia Southern while working on campus as a maintenance foreman for the housing department.  He is the owner/operator of Southeastern Balloon Services, a company he purchased from his father, Dan Jones, who founded it in the 80s.  SBS is dedicated to building lasting relationships with farmers and land owners of the region.

Taking Flight

Connect had the privilege of meeting Jones and his crew one Friday afternoon to learn about the process of flying firsthand. It starts with a few bags and a wicker basket that is intricately woven, yet sturdy enough to carry up to four people across the sky.  The crew begins by attaching the burner to the basket and laying out the balloon envelope.  The balloon is inflated with a fan until it takes shape.  It is then attached to the burner, where the pilot blasts flames into the canopy to launch it in the air.  One minute you are planted firmly on the grass, surrounded by crew members holding down the basket with all their weight.  The next minute you are rising above the treetops like an Eagle in the sky.  And, while we’re on the topic of Eagles, Georgia Southern’s campus is just as lovely from a bird’s eye view as it is on the ground. 

Jones and his crew take everything into account during the flight.  They care for livestock while overhead because the burners can be loud and alarming, so they try to respect the land and its inhabitants throughout the journey.  Reaching altitudes of 2,000 feet, you get a picturesque view of Statesboro’s true beauty.  From the creeks to the landmarks, there is something to take in from every direction.

 When it is time to come down, wide open spaces are always ideal.  However, because targeting an exact landing zone can be difficult, the crew attempts to land as safely as possible without harming the people, livestock or crops in the process.  This sometimes results in landing on a dirt road or the edge of a field, but let’s be honest, that’s not the biggest risk you are going to take that day.  Even with the associated risks involved, it doesn’t stop some of us from wanting a taste of the adventure. The most important part of the experience is taking flight and seeing the land that we call home from a new, higher perspective.

 


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