Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Whoosh! The Balloon Is Gone!

balloon was grounded for good a couple of days ago.

When up, the iconic yellow balloon was visible from miles away and many people in the vicinity would have gotten use to its presence. Now, I guess they are going to miss it. In April 2006, the crew took 12 hours to inflate the French-made balloon. This time round, in a matter of 30 minutes, it was history. The balloon will be heading to France for maintenance and hmmm....I wonder if DHL will be sending it there.

It is a shame that after 2.5 years, the owner has to fold up the balloon as the site where it stood on has to give way for the new Bugis MRT station
. It seems that attempts to find an alternative site have been unsuccessful. I find this puzzling. Surely Singapore can offer a patch of grass to accommodate the balloon for a few more years!

I was one of the 200,000 riders who had taken the 180-m ride up into the sky. The was a night ride and the view up there was spectacular. For someone like me who loathe height, the ride was a pleasant one and I enjoyed the gentle greeting of the glittery horizon as the balloon gradually ascended.

I have tried a real hot air balloon in Cairns a few years ago. The experience was definitely more hair raising but educational.

In order to catch the optimal weather condition, I had to be ready by 4 am for the hotel pick-up. It wasn't because there was an early flight to catch but rather, the passengers had to be there on cue. As soon as the pilot was satisfied with the weather conditions, he would take us up.

Every bit of the preparation was from scratch and we had to help. First, the balloon would have to be unpacked, laid on the ground and connected to the basket. The balloon was then partially inflated with cold air using a blower. The ground crew then aimed a burner flame at the mouth of the balloon to bring up the air temperature within. Once the balloon was upright, we gingerly climbed into the basket with the help of the ground crew and the pilot. The pilot then blasted more heat into the balloon and off we went!

Meanwhile, the ground crew packed up the equipment and chased us around on ground in a retrieve vehicle. It was amazing how the vehicle zipped through the roads and fields just to keep the balloon within view.

During the flight, the pilot could only steer the balloon up or down and the direction was very much decided by the wind. While we were up there, the pilot would blast the propane-fueled flame into the balloon to control the heat. It took me a while to get use to that loud puff each time the flame was shot.

The flight was probably about a hour or so. Initially, I was very taken by the picturesque
view. It was almost surreal, especially when the dawn broke at the far horizon. After some time, the landscape seemed to have stood still and I began to get a little restless. I wonder how those balloonists managed keep themselves occupied and sane while spending days flying across oceans and continents.

When it was time to land, I could tell that the pilot tried to secure a smooth landing and he did. I was worried that the basket may overturn on impact but all we got was a big thud. Amazingly, the chasing vehicle was there waiting as if they already knew the exact landing spot.

After we climbed out of the basket, it was time to help again. The balloon had to be deflated and detached from the basket and the passengers helped to pack it up. The feeling of coming back on solid ground again was great.

I am not sure if hot air balloons can flight above the Singapore sky. I certainly hope to see that one day...


Other stories:

Haw Par Villa

The Singapore Flyer

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