Lighter than Air


Lighter than Air **** by David Owen

I’m joining Jain with my Edible Book Review at Food for Thought, where pages from your book magically mix with the kitchen and your camera~

And Jenny Matlock for Alphabe-Thursday~ this week’s letter assignment is the letter H~ for Hot-Air Balloon.


We went to the Carolina BalloonFest several weeks ago which was a first for me! It’s held annually within a 40 minute drive from our lake house. We attended the Saturday morning Launch & Competition, but there is also a Balloon Glow event as well as a Mass Ascension, that would be fun to attend next year. It was a crisp, clear fall morning~ perfect weather & conditions for the stable winds needed for balloon flight. With Alphabe-Thursday in mind I took PLENTY of photos and for Food for Thought, I worked in reverse, taking photos, and THEN finding a book with thoughts to cook :-)

 Come along with me for a fun-filled flight, a little balloon history and ballooning-inspired food & beverage~

There has always been a sense of romanticism linked to balloons~ they glide seemingly without effort and soundlessly among the clouds. . .until. . . the propane burner is blasted, which we discovered early one fall Saturday morning sleeping with the windows open. Quite a rude awakening, we thought the house was coming down around us, jolted awake by the roar of the burners as balloon floated overhead :-)

The history of balloon flight is often underestimated, as are the fascinating scientific breakthroughs than can be attributed to it. Lighter than Air details the history of balloon flight from the Montgolfier brothers’ initial attempts, and chronicles the events, and often misfortunes that befell the very early balloonists. From as early as 1783, balloons had a wide appeal and were used from show business to espionage. Lighter than Air explores the hey-day of transatlantic travel, to more recently the renaissance of competition ballooning.

While present-day airplanes are constructed from specialized materials, ranging from stainless steel, duralumin, and carbon-fiber composites, the first lighter-than-air flights occurred in scarily fragile structures of wood, wire, silk, and paper~ harnessing the energy of heavy, cumbersome  and dangerous furnaces burning mixtures of wool, straw, and even rotten meat. Theories as to why flight was possible were entirely wrong, nevertheless these pioneers persevered, attempting great challenges.



The story begins more than 200 years ago, further back than Dec. 17th, 1903 when the Wright Brothers ushered in the dawn of heavier-than-air flying. . .


The Montgolfier brothers are credited with inventing the hot-air balloon.Word of their achievement quickly reached Paris, and the brothers’ claim to the invention of flight was put to the test by demonstration on Sept. 19, 1783. King Louis XVI of France thought balloon flight too dangerous so the balloon was launched with a sheep, a duck and a rooster as passengers. The sheep was believed to have a reasonable approximation of human physiology. The duck chosen since it was expected to be unharmed by being aloft and included as a control for the effects created by the aircraft rather than the altitude. The rooster was included as a further control since it was a bird that did not fly at high altitudes.

Before a crowd at the royal palace in Versailles, with King Louis XVI  and Marie Antoinette in attendance. the flight was judged a success. It lasted only eight minutes, covered two miles and reached an altitude of about 1,500 feet before its descent due to a split in the fabric.While the wicker basket had broken open during the fall through the trees, the sheep & duck were unharmed. The rooster suffered a damaged wing that seemed to be unrelated to the fall, since an eyewitness claimed to have seen the sheep kicking the rooster on the balloon’s ascent :-)


At the very beginning of the ballooning age, the army of Revolutionary France formed a balloon corps, using hydrogen balloons to spot enemy movements.


During the Civil War in the United States, most balloonists signed on with the Union Army. Operating fully inflated balloons, that required a gas main for inflation, then towed around the countryside, proved to be problematic. One such balloon crossing the Potomac, was seized by a gust of wind and torn from the hands of the balloon party. Loaded down with ammunition to use on enemy positions from the air, it drifted toward Confederate territory, making it necessary to shoot down, to prevent it from falling into enemy hands.


By the late 1950’s with the introduction of jetliners resulting in a sudden boom in long-distance air travel, lighter-than-air flight began to seem obsolete. The style and luxury of the huge, rigid airships had perished in the flames of the Hindenburg, and even the smaller, more practical nonrigid blimps had outgrown their military applications.



The Rebirth of the Hot-Air Balloon is credited to the US Air Force– concerned with rescuing downed pilots over hostile territory where a plane or helicopter rescue would be impossible. PASS, Pilot Aerial Survival System, was based on providing each crew member the materials necessary to make a small hot-air balloon, capable of lifting one person to an altitude where they could then be rescued by a slow-flying plane or helicopter.  A contract was awarded to a company, Raven Industries, with the goal to design a reusable balloon to lift a man to the height of 10,000 feet with the ability to fly for three hours. Using the principles the Montgolfiers employed, they perfected the balloon envelopes, discovered liquid propane in pressurized containers as fuel, and made improvements with coiled stainless steel tubing for vaporizing gas to inflate balloons quickly and to provide height control. While the DIY hot-air balloon as a part of an aircrewman’s escape kit never progressed, developers realized that as a result of their research, they had invented the first economical sporting balloon.


Our morning was spent at the Carolina BalloonFest watching the competition that involved the balloons trying to navigate to hit a mark on the ground, by dropping or throwing a small sandbag with a colored streamer, coming close as possible to the marked spot. Challenging, with balloons drifting downward at the speed of the wind, searching for the right flying height to take advantage of wind currents to reach closest to the mark. The Autism Balloon, #32 was the clear winner, able to actually come down far enough to drop his marker within mere feet of the target. It looks like cheating until you realize the skill and expertise involved to negotiate the wind and fly that closely towards your target :-)




A common tradition among balloonists is to have a champagne toast upon landing with the roots of the tradition reaching back to the 1780’s. . .

 Terrified villagers or farmers reacted violently to the sight of the thrashing envelope which became a target for pitchforks, scythes, and muskets~ cut or torn to pieces. Early French aeronauts carried champagne to appease angry or frightened spectators at the landing site and the champagne convinced the farmers that they were not in fact demons and acted as an apology for disturbing the land and animals grazing in the field.

 A Champagne Brunch for your after Balloon Flight for Food for Thought. . .

A festive way to get your morning vitamin C after your high-flying adventure :-)

 A champagne toast is now often included in commercial sight-seeing flights. Many balloonists recite the Balloonist’s Blessing (also known as ‘The Balloonist’s Prayer’) with the 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.


Cream Cheese-Banana-Nut Bread, recipe courtesy Southern Living, here

Maybe a Chocolate Croissant to go with your Mimosa?

Some Quiche. . .


Croissant French Toast with Strawberry Syrup, recipe here.


I’ll leave you with a video slide show I uploaded of a balloon being inflated and finally airborne~ I didn’t have any luck syncing it to the song below when I was uploading it so you can play the song below as you watch :-)

Be sure to visit Food for Thought and see what everyone is reading & eating~

And visit Jenny Matlock for Alphabet Fun :-)

I’m also joining A Southern Daydreamer for Outdoor Wednesday~

  31 comments for “Lighter than Air

  1. November 9, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    I gotta tell ya.. Jain and you.. a match made in heaven:) She loves Hot Air balloons.. books..chocolate..

    You took great pics..I have never been to a balloon festival..what colors!

  2. November 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I love this. Not something one would think of everyday & so beautiful to watch them fly. Thank you!

  3. November 9, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    oh i LOVE balloons, never been in one, i have vertigo and don’t trust myself, but i love love love seeing them! and i love the reverse theory too, works for me!

    i agree the blast is mortifying for the unexpected, i was on my deck when suddenly a balloon came over the house not 75′ above us, 8 heads starring down was a sight to behold on my hill. when napa is fogged in they launch down the valley i live in.

    i am loving your shots, especially the blue moon!

    and brunch, another stroke of your genius! looks so darn pretty, wouldn’t any balloonist love to pop in at your house!

    love the luggage piece too…

    ok you KNOW the video and music sent me to the moon… and the phone! thanks for sharing all the joy. i am SOOOOOOOOO glad you are a food for thoughter~

  4. November 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    That was lovely, informative and delicious all in one.

  5. November 9, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    How beautiful! This post has brought back memories of a balloon which landed in my back yard early one morning in West Chester, PA. The pilot commented on my nightgown!!! We also watched them in Plano, TX each year. Our kids’ favorite was “Miss Kitty”…a gigantic cat! Can’t wait to try that banana bread!
    Jane (artfully graced)

  6. Ellen
    November 9, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    How fun it must be to see all these balloons with different designs going up into the sky!

  7. November 9, 2010 at 9:19 pm

    I always enjoy seeing the balloons — the colors are so wonderful. I’d love to fly one some day. Nice tour. Jane F.

  8. November 9, 2010 at 11:34 pm

    Loved your images…all of them! When I lived in Florida, years ago, I sat at my kitchen table each morning, glancing out the window, and enjoying-dozens of hot-air balloons floating by. It was quite a visual feast.

    Visiting from Susan’s Outdoor Wednesday.

    Liz @ the Brambleberry Cottage

  9. November 10, 2010 at 9:26 am

    Fascinating post and the photographs are stunning. I love hot air balloons – the artwork that can be created on them is amazing.
    We used to have an annual hot air balloon festival down the street from us but it appears to have stooped which is unfortunate.

  10. November 10, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I would love to take a hot air balloon ride!

  11. Lola
    November 10, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    What a gorgeous kaleidoscope of colors and images – fabulous ‘H’ post!

    XOXO Lola:)

  12. H
    November 10, 2010 at 5:48 pm

    I love your photos of the balloons! For years, I have been promising myself a hot air balloon ride to mark my 50th birthday. The summer has slipped by and it never quite happened, but next year, it will!

  13. Sue
    November 10, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    WOW! You sure packed alot into this Letter H post….HotAir to Hungry! Spectacular photos of the Balloons and great information. You did a great job on this lesson.

  14. November 10, 2010 at 7:49 pm

    Oh, your post brought back great memories of the day I had the chance to visit the Hot Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque… Such great photos — and also some yummy food. :)

    Greetings from Germany,

  15. JDaniel4's Mom
    November 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    We have a wonderful balloon festival here every May. They don’t serve food as wonderful as you have in your brunch though.

  16. November 10, 2010 at 7:58 pm

    lovely photos – wouldn’t might going on a ride in one of those colorful balloons

  17. Pat
    November 10, 2010 at 8:47 pm

    Mary, it was so delightful to look at all the balloon photos and learn the history of hot air balloons! My husband and I wanted to go on a hot air balloon ride when we were in Napa in California but because the morning were foggy the time of the year we were there they weren’t flying. So we will have to wait until another opportunity comes around. A balloon ride is supposed to be so peaceful, and the person does not have a sensation of flying at all! Your “after flying” champagne brunch looks scrumptious!
    I also love the harvest tablescape you did with the cornucopia of vegetables and sunflowers …so pretty!
    ♥ Pat

  18. November 10, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I would LOVE to attend that balloonfest! Wonderful fun. :)

  19. November 10, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Another spectacular post! The balloon shots are incredible, Mary. How do you get such sharp, vivid images?
    I’ve never been up in a balloon, but I do enjoy watching them. They used to drift over our deck of our previous home. It was something to be sitting in the quiet of the morning and all of a sudden hear the swoosh of the hot air filling the balloon.
    As for the champagne brunch ~ I’m seriously in need of both croissant French toast and a glass of champagne.

  20. November 10, 2010 at 9:48 pm

    What an incredible post! The pictures are beautiful–the balloons, the food, the review, the information. Wow! You certainly have done an excellent job here.

  21. November 10, 2010 at 11:23 pm

    These images are amazing…You are making me crave adventure and wonderful yummy treats! Excellent job on this very imformative and drool inducing post!

  22. November 11, 2010 at 1:22 am

    I always wanted to go to the Balloon Fest held in Albuquerque every year!! I have been to a much smaller balloon event which was fun, but your pictures REAllY make me want to make my reservations for Albuq. right now!! I also wasn’t hungry when I started reading…now I have to go look at those recipes and I am STARVING! Beautiful post Mary! Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful eye candy!! Honestly, I think I’d be afraid to go in the balloon!

  23. November 11, 2010 at 2:26 am

    I’ve been wanting to attend the BalloonFest we have here the Philippines in Angeles City for years, but somehow always miss it. Doubt we’d ever get such gorgeous blue clear skies to make the hot air balloons pop in the photos, but you “done good”… How fun. But it’s really not nice of you to show me all those mouth-watering goodies… cream cheese banana nut cake… chocolate croissant… oooh…. and I’ve not had a Mimosa in years. Fantastic H post.

  24. November 11, 2010 at 3:47 am

    So much interesting information, history, and pictures of hot air balloons! Thanks for sharing!

  25. November 11, 2010 at 9:55 am

    This was such a wonderful stop on my journey through Alphabe-Thursday!

    Wow! I love the pictures. Many years ago I went to a balloon festival in New Mexico and I remember it so vividly to this day. The glow was especially enchanting to me.

    And your recipes. I am copying down three of those with the holidays on the way!

    You are such a gracious hostess…I need to put you on my bucket list to meet someday!

    Absolutely amazing.

    Thanks for the wonderful stop.


  26. Pondside
    November 11, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    I’ll sip the mimosa and enjoy my balloon ride vicariously, thank you!

  27. November 11, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Makes me get a little queasy just looking at the pics!

    Lovely photos and I am so coming to your place for brunch sometime!



  28. November 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm

    I would be quite happy to sip mimosas and nibble while watching balloons from the ground:) Happy H Day!

  29. November 12, 2010 at 7:54 pm

    What a wonderful post! They have the Temecula balloon and wine festival near us and they are fun to watch, but I loved all the history to go with your post…and the food…I need to make some of that!

  30. November 13, 2010 at 6:14 am

    Mary, how fortunate you were to be able to attend the balloon fest, so close to home.

    What FABULOUS photos you took!! I’m green with envy!
    I remember reading about hot air balloon launchings in France in the book, The Queens Dollmaker. Your champagne breakfast is fit for a Queen! Just beautiful in every detail. :-D

  31. jo
    November 14, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    balloons are the prettiest of all flight vehicles … i love to seem them floating up high … very cool!

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