#3: Bloomington, Indiana,
August 21 and 23, 2003


Bloomington, Indiana is located an hour south of Indianapolis. Bloomington is the home of Indiana University, and as such enjoys better bookshops and more ethnic restaurants than other similarly-sized towns. Local people have a great interest in college sports, particularly basketball, at which the school excels. In 2002, Indiana University was ranked the nation's Number One party school by the Princeton Review, based on factors such as alcohol and drug consumption and (inversely) the amount of time students spend studying. Its drop to third place in 2003 was greeted with ambivalence at the school, first place in anything being difficult to give up.

Unlike the flat, agrabusinessy squares of the northern part of the state, southern Indiana has rolling green hills, with lines of trees separating picturesque smaller farms. Limestone is plentiful in this part of the state, and is a common building material in older buildings in the area.


Last fall I received an e-mail from someone from someone named Bill Oliver in Bloomington Indiana, asking some "how to" questions about cluster ballooning. I wrote back but politely declined to answer his questions, as is my policy. Most such inquiries seem to come from people who don't seem to understand that ballooning is a skilled activity, and that building and flying a balloon built out of components that were never intended to carry a human being is in more challenging rather than less. However, since Bill from Bloomington did identify himself as a hot-air balloonist, I threw out the offer that if he knew of any balloon festivals in Indiana that would invite me to fly, I would be happy to have him help me out as crew, so he could learn for himself what was involved.

A few weeks later, Bill Oliver e-mailed me that his business, the Oliver Winery, was going to sponsor a balloon rally in Bloomington the following summer, and would provide the helium for me to do two cluster balloon flights related to the event. This seemed like a very generous offer, and briefly made me wonder if friend Bill had palmed his meds and gotten onto the computer while the nurses weren't looking. However, some poking around the Internet showed that the Oliver Winery was indeed a prominent local business in the Bloomington area; Bill and I also shared some hot-air ballooning acquaintances. So I accepted the offer, and the following August, my crew chief Ernie Hartt and I were in Bloomington.



My first flight took place on Thursday morning. Bill had scheduled a "media flight", a chance to have the local newspaper out to do an article before the balloon festival that weekend. The weather forecast was calling for a front to move into the area later that day, and for the past week, morning fog had been a problem out at the airport. On the morning of the flight, it looked like we were going to have a bit of fog on the surface and a bit of wind up above.


Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times


We started inflating the balloons at 4 AM out at the local airport. Local balloonists, employees from Bill's winery and other local volunteers were there to lend a hand.

Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times

As it got light, my crew began attaching the balloons to me. It was still more or less clear where we were, but a fog bank had formed on the far side of the airport.


Chris Howell, Bloomington Herald-Times

With Ernie holding my tether, and I adjusted ballast and got my first feel of all that wonderful helium lift from my balloons.


My crew walked me up to where Bill Oliver and Travis Vencel, the balloonmeister for the event, had inflated the two Oliver Winery balloons. However, the fog began to roll in, and we had to put our launch on hold, until the airport control tower would let us go.


Some spectators took advantage of the delay to bring their kids to have their picture taken with me.


After ten minutes or so, the fog finally pulled back enough for the control tower to clear us to launch. I checked my buoyancy a last time as the hot-air balloons lifted off, then had Ernie release me.


And up I went.





















Indiana (Continued) ]