Balloonist glad to have head in clouds

Neighbors

November 04, 1999|By Diane B. Mikulis | Diane B. Mikulis,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WOULD YOU like to ride in my beautiful balloon?" The lyrics to The Fifth Dimension's song "Up, Up and Away" just naturally come to mind while I listened to hot air balloonist Ron Broderick.

The West Friendship resident has been taking passengers for rides through the skies in his hot air balloon for nine years.

The best thing about operating Friendship Hot Air Balloon Co., he says, is helping people do something that average citizens wouldn't do on their own.

Broderick takes one to three passengers for sunrise or sunset flights in his seven-story balloon several times a week, from April through early November. The black balloon, named "Dreampuff," is decorated with "moondrops," shaped like colorful drops of rain, Broderick said.

He and his passengers float over the countryside in Howard, Carroll or Frederick counties and land in whichever field the wind takes them to.

Broderick has flown families, teen-agers and an 88-year-old man who walked with a cane.

"He wanted to fly and could stand up for an hour," Broderick said, adding that there is no typical profile for people who want to go ballooning.

Some of his favorite flights have been with men who propose marriage while in the clouds.

But frequently, Broderick said, the men get so caught up in the flight that they forget to propose -- and Broderick has to prompt them.

"So far, they've always accepted," he said of the women.

Ballooning is not a career, Broderick says, because weather conditions leave such narrow windows for flight. But it's a hobby that he can share with others. Broderick works full time as an Internet Web site developer.

He caught the balloon bug 10 years ago while attending balloon festivals with his wife, Nancy, to sell the ballooning patches and pins they make.

After taking lessons from a commercially rated balloon pilot, Broderick went on a qualification flight with an Federal Aviation Administration instructor. He had to take a three-hour written exam. He earned a private pilot's license and went on to obtain his commercial license.

"Every flight is different," he said. "I enjoy the beauty of the flight."

Broderick prepares for each flight by reviewing weather reports and forecasts to determine a general flight path. He chooses the launch site so that, during the flight, the winds will blow the balloon back toward the West Friendship area.

The balloon is laid out on the ground and a powerful fan is used to force air into the 77,000-cubic-foot envelope. When it is about two-thirds full, the burner is turned on, and high-pressure heat inflates the rest of the balloon, causing it to rise.

Broderick and his passengers climb into the 47-by-45-inch wicker basket and take off. The basket isn't very big, he said.

"You can get very friendly with your passengers very quickly," he added.

Using instruments for guidance, Broderick adjusts the burner to control the altitude of the balloon. Two 15-gallon tanks of propane are carried in flight.

As for steering, "You're kind of at the mercy of the wind," he says. Wind direction varies by altitude, so if Broderick has accurate information, he can ascend or descend to catch winds blowing in the direction he wants to go.

When it's time to land, he scouts an appropriate location, usually an unused farm field.

"It would all be useless without the cooperation of landowners," Broderick says. Balloonists need to respect the farmers, he said, and not land where crops have been planted.

A chase car with a crew and a trailer meets the balloon soon after landing, helps deflate it and quickly packs up the equipment. Radios are used, so the balloon and the car can stay in contact.

Broderick attends yearly safety seminars, and his balloon is regularly inspected. So far, he says, he has not encountered any dangerous situations.

"Ballooning always presents a challenge," he says. "You learn to play safe and not stretch the rules, and it should be a fairly predictable sport."

The cost of a flight is $175 a person, including a champagne toast, a first-flight certificate and a commemorative pin.

Information: www.ronb.com/balloon.

Halloween obstacle course

West Friendship Elementary School children had five days of Halloween festivities last week.

Physical education teacher Kim Morris converted the school's gymnasium into a Halloween obstacle course, complete with spooky music and lighting. During each physical education class, the children progressed through 12 activity stations.

They had to read the instructions and execute the actions called for -- jumping, crawling, climbing or swinging on a rope above, under or through obstacles.

After making two complete circuits, they discussed what they liked best and how the exercises could improve fitness.

Fourth-graders were given writing assignments based on the discussions.

A group of first-graders practiced their reading skills as they progressed through the stations, sounding out the words on the signs -- Pumpkin Patch, Shadow House, Skeleton Rock Climb and Timeless Tunnel.

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