Author interview: Hanna on hot air balloons

For this post, I’m delighted to feature an interview with Hanna Day, who has been of immense help with blimp-related information. Hanna is a social media consultant for non-profits and small businesses. We met on Scriphophile, which is a workshopping site for writers. Hanna is working on an epic fantasy trilogy, the first novel of which is called The Hymns of Creation.

Caroline: Hanna, can you tell us how you got involved in the world of hot air balloons?

Hanna: Hi Caroline! My aunt and uncle are both hot air balloon pilots, and ever since I was a kid I’ve always wanted to ride in their balloon. Things never quite worked out until the past two summers, as it was always the wrong weather or the wrong location or not the right time for a flight. Finally, after years of badgering them, I got to fly!

Caroline: I admit, I get confused with the difference between hot air balloons, blimps and all those other terms.

Hanna: Hot air balloons are different from blimps. Blimps can be controlled, while hot air balloons are driven by the winds. However, a lot of the same rules apply for wind control and the balloons.

Caroline: How do you prepare for a flight?

Hanna: Because you’re at the mercy of the wind I had to get up at 4am to prepare for the flight. Where we were we could not fly after 7am due to the weather. First, my uncle went out with a weather balloon and checked the weather before attempting to fly.

Inflating the balloon

Being a passenger means you’re part of the crew. This includes assisting the pilot and the ground crew (the chaser team) with taking out and assembling the balloon, which needs to be inflated. Crew members hold up the balloon while a fan inflates it, which takes about 45 minutes. One crew member will hold a red emergency rope that opens the top of the balloon should an emergency arise. Once the balloon is inflated the pilot cuts the fan and turns on the propane tank. Then everyone gets the balloon up.

Ready for takeoff

Caroline: How physically fit do you have to be?

Hanna: If you’re part of the crew you should be in reasonable physical shape, however my 80-year grandfather was able to fly as a passenger.

During my last flight in July 2017 we did not land in the airport strip where we were supposed to land—instead we landed in front of a cow pasture in 3 feet of sage bush. Because of this we had to pull the balloon through bushes, up a hill and over a fence while the pilot (my aunt) had to keep the balloon afloat. Getting it over the fence required some interesting physics and arm strength! And the balloon will lift you off the ground if you’re holding onto the rope, so the rule is to let go if your feet leave the ground.

Getting stuck in sagebrush leads to some interesting challenges!

Then there’s packing up the balloon. You have to milk the air out of the balloon via a train of people, then sit on it and pack it up. That is what really got me tired!

Caroline: What was the flight like?

Hanna: A long morning, to be sure! It was really fun, though it was also scary the first time I was in the basket. Afterwards I ran on a TON of adrenaline. I didn’t think I’d get an adrenaline rush for being in such a slow ride, but once you realize how high up you get it’s pretty exciting!

Caroline: Did anything surprise you?

Hanna: Yes. One, our balloon got stuck at 10,000 feet because there was no wind to push us along. So we were just hanging there. I was also surprised when the propane tank scared away animals on the ground—Moose, deer and foxes ran away. And when we flew over homes the dogs started barking.

Also, when the pilot turned on the propane burner it was pretty hot—just a wall of heat that blasted through the air, which surprised me because I was holding up the balloon!

Caroline: What was the best part?

Hanna: Once you get up there it’s really beautiful. I got to see all the way to Wyoming from Colorado. My favorite part was looking at the river down below and being able to see above the wildfire a couple hours away in the mountains.

Caroline: Did anything make you anxious/nervous/scared?

Hanna: I didn’t realize I was scared of heights until we got about a thousand feet in the air—by that point you have to stick with it! My aunt called me a “Klingon.” Also, my aunt kept leaning over to spit to gauge wind direction. Don’t fall out!

It looks like a long way down!

Caroline: What’s been happening recently in the world of hot air balloons?

Hanna: Recently, in the past five years my uncle, who is also a meteorologist, has become involved a lot of projects involving stratospheric balloons for ferrying skydivers for near space dives, such as the Red Bull Stratos Jump and the StratEx Space Dive. I’ve been helping him establish a social media presence to help him engage with these projects online, so I ended up learning a lot about high-altitude balloons.

For A Quiet Rebellion I ended up asking him many questions about the technical aspects. For example, in one scene the characters launch a flight during a windy day, and I had to ask if the weather affected blimps and balloons differently. In fact, the wind does affect the success of a flight!

However, it is fantasy, and so there is much room for creative license for the blimps of Ascar!

Also forgot to mention: another surprise was that my aunt didn’t tell us this was her first time flying this balloon by herself–she and my uncle usually fly a bigger balloon. She didn’t want to tell us in case we freaked out!

Caroline: Yikes! It’s probably just as well she didn’t mention it!

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