(...or gas). A keen balloonist reports on his unusual hobby.
For hundreds of years, human beings have been fascinated by the idea of flying,
but it was only in the eighteenth century that a practical apparatus was designed
to achieve this aim.
The French brothers Montgolfier observed that paper bags filled with smoke tended
to rise. From these small beginnings, they developed the first hot air balloon,
and the first manned balloon flight took place at Versailles in 1783.
Almost at once, ballooning became very fashionable, but it was the gas balloon which
became more widely used than the hot air balloon. The gas balloon in turn was superseded
by the airship, which gave way to the more reliable aeroplane at the beginning of
the twentieth century.
But the hot air balloon never died out completely, and during the 1960's, using
new materials and a safer method of generating hot air, it literally took off again.
By the 1980's, marketing executives had realised that balloons made wonderful advertising
hoardings and soon the skies were full of brightly coloured and excitingly shaped
advertisements for everything from margarine to mobile phones.
Ballooning is an uncertain activity. Take off is entirely determined by the local
weather conditions. "Safety first!" is the absolute rule and pilots who ignore it
have short flying careers.
Preparing the balloon for flight needs teamwork. The same team will follow the balloon
as it flies in order to retrieve it when it lands, and no-one is sure where the
balloon will land exactly. The pilot carries out a last-minute check before flying
and briefs the passengers. Nothing should be forgotten, as important items left
on the ground are difficult to pick up from 300 metres.
The flight itself takes place silently, punctuated by the roar from the gas burner
as more hot air is put into the balloon envelope. Soon, even nervous passengers
begin to enjoy the sensation of floating gently over the countryside, admiring the
interesting patterns of roads and fields below. There is a feeling that problems
have been left behind on the ground. There is a sense of freedom.
Landing can sometimes be bumpy, depending on wind speed and terrain, but as long
as the passengers hold on tight and stay in the basket, there is little danger of
injury and every chance that they will want to repeat the experience.
Do you know these common idiomatic uses of the word "air"? If you are not sure,
click the "Meaning" button.