Flying high makes fantastic photos
In a normal week, I only get to take photos of birds, not fly like one. This past week was exceptional in that I took to the air twice, once in a small airplane and once in a hot air balloon.
Some people have what they call their “bucket list.” I only have a list of things in my head that I want to do someday — health, time and money permitting. Hot air ballooning was on my list.
A couple of weeks ago I attended an auction to benefit the year-round cabins that Friends of Lake Darling are planning to build. One of the items up for bid was a hot air balloon ride, donated by Mike Hadley of Richland.
I should know better than to go to an auction, especially a charity auction. Invariably something is going way too cheaply and I start bidding. However, in the case of the hot air balloon ride, this was one thing I really did want. Fortunately I had the winning bid and Mike said he would call me when the weather was suitable.
Saturday afternoon I received a call saying, “Looks like we can go tomorrow. Be at the Lake Darling Lodge at 6.”
I arrived promptly at 6 and the crew was just getting the balloon ready to go. Present to watch the take-off were Drs. Mary Anson and Faye Vittetoe, members of Friends of Lake Darling. They were nearly as excited as I. Also in attendance was University of Iowa nursing instructor and photographer Jo Eland, who would be the other passenger.
I really questioned whether or not three fully grown adults could fit in the basket, and if we did whether the balloon could lift off with what I determined to be a full load. Not to worry. It was cozy with three of us, but the balloon had no difficulty getting off the ground.
If I never get to repeat the experience, it is one I will long remember. What a joy! For most of the 1 1.5-hour flight we were at an altitude of around 700 feet. Once we were as high as 1,000 feet, and sometimes we were near treetop level. Unless Mike was using the burner it was quiet. You could hear dogs barking and folks in their yards talking to us.
We saw a few deer, horses and cattle. One little foal was frightened of the giant thing in the sky and ran for cover, with mama close behind.
Seeing things from the air that you normally see at eye level certainly gives one a different perspective. Lake Darling, now dry, the cabin area and the new lodge all look quite different from 500 feet up. So do farms with their patterns in the fields. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of trees all over the countryside.
I learned that you are always looking for a place to land, that you don’t want to run out of fuel (duh!) and that wind currents vary at different altitudes. I also learned that ballooning is a lot of work! Thank goodness for a couple of young, strong fellows to help. The balloon itself weighs about 200 pounds and the gondola, fuel tanks, etc. in the neighborhood of 450 pounds. It is definitely a lot of work just to load and unload.
The other flight last week was a “for hire” job; although anytime I can fly I really don’t think it is work.
Jefferson County Hospital, now Jefferson County Health Center, is celebrating 100 years of service to the county and environs. Ginny Hughes and Joneane Parker had asked me long ago to get some aerial shots of the health center and Bob Lyon to do the actual flying.
Bob told me we would have to go in the morning before wind currents made it too bumpy to get good shots. Wednesday morning at 9 was the designated time. The weather was cooperative and the hospital staff was ready for us. We made about four passes in order to get different angles and to better insure a good shot. All this took about 18 minutes and we were back on the ground.
Oh, yes. I almost forgot the best part of this assignment. Bob let me “fly” the plane. Actually, I think he let me hold the yoke and pretend to fly while he was in control the whole time. It was exhilarating nonetheless and something I had never done in all my years of going up in small planes. Flying a plane had never been on my mental list. Thanks, Bob. It was a treat, even if I wasn’t really flying the craft.
It was a great week and the balloon flight made for a nearly perfect Mother’s Day. Both times in the air I would gladly repeat, but if it doesn’t happen I can say that I had a great time pretending I could fly like a bird.
Julie Johnston is photographer for The Fairfield Ledger.