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Although it's only occasionally mentioned on this website, I also fly a conventional hot-air balloon with a basket.  It's a 90,000 cubic foot Lindstrand, named "Necessity". 

The beauty and color of hot-air balloons is a central attraction of the sport, and balloonists spend a lot of time creating color schemes, patterns and sometimes artwork for their balloons.  However, like many balloon pilots, I seldom if ever get to see my own balloon, since when it's inflated I have to be in the basket running the burners.   From the basket all you can do look up past the burners into the inside of the balloon -- it's pretty enough, but gives no notion of what the balloon has a whole looks like in the air.  So, ironically, your idea of how your own balloon looks in flight is based mostly on photographs.

I decided to remedy this situation with my latest cluster balloon flight.  The plan was for my friend Ernie Hartt to fly Necessity.  He would take off  while I sat on top of the hot-air balloon with my cluster, the seat of my harness attached to a little webbing loop sewn into the balloon envelope.  Later in the flight, I would separate from the hot-air balloon and fly independently.  I was not only going to see my balloon while it was flying, I was going to enjoy it at a distance and angle usually reserved for  an  impending mid-air collision....

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Balloonist and photographer Dean Ekdahl lets us set up in his front yard.  A bit after sunrise, after the usual two hours of inflating balloons and attaching them to my harness, my crew walks me over to the adjacent lot.  Two hot-air balloons are inflating there: my balloon, Necessity, being flown my Ernie Hartt, and Jerry's Sebby's balloon, Hot Rocks, which will be the camera platform for this flight.

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I'm ready for my balloon ride!

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My crew help me attach the seat of my harness to the loop sewn into Necessity.  Ernie cranks up the inflator fan.   Laying on its side, Necessity begins to fill with cold air, gently lifting me off the ground.

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The place I'm attached is a bit off center from the top, so I'll be able to hang my feet down.  It's a bit vertiginous sitting up there, like a circus performer balanced on the top of a giant ball.  Looking down over my shoulder, I have an unusual view of the top of my balloon.

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The burner roars as Ernie begins putting heat into the balloon.  Slowly it begins to stand up, carrying me with it.

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Now the balloon is standing up.  I look down past my legs and feet at the ground below.  You don't really appreciate how tall your hot-air  balloon is until you do this....

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The launch is so gentle that I'm not sure exactly when we lift off.  A balloon launch often feels more like the ground is dropping away from you than like you are rising, and seated on this huge buoyant island, that impression is especially strong.

And up we go....

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A Balloon Ride (Cont'd 1) ]