by Bill Murtorff
I went flying this morning and I had a problem. Actually for me it was more of a nuisance. I had been in the air about 30 minutes and at about 1,000 ft. when the pilot light went out. I am an old Piccard balloon pilot, so I know to always carry at least two strikers with me on all flights. I used to carry one in my hand every flight, but things got better and they are just in my pockets now. I relit the main burner and checked the pilot light switch. It uses a type of toggle switch to hold the valve in the open position so propane goes to the pilot light. The cotter pin had rusted and the handle came off in my hand. I was going to have to relight the main burner on almost every burn until I could land. I was flying over newly planted crops, mostly asparagus, at a very slow speed. This was going to be a while because I didn't want to upset the farmer. After 20 minutes and over 20 relights, I put the balloon on the ground. I had a crew person bring me a safety pin off the dash board of my truck (I have everything needed to survive sitting on my dash), repaired the switch and flew on to a place where we could put the balloon down away from the crops. I only mention this because a lot of people think that pilot lights never fail and if they do carry something to relight the main burner, is it in an inaccessible place? Have you practiced relighting your burner lately? Before you leave the ground on the next nice day you fly, do it a half dozen times. It could save your life sometime.
Now for something a little lighter. Most guys like me have dreams of macho things like pirates or King Arthur's knights and such. I guess most girls dreams of cooking and babies and stuff. But have you ever thought what you might have done in a different time? Say you were born 100 years ago. Would you end up as a spotter with the Army Balloon Corp. during W.W.I? Maybe you would be a pilot in the Gordon Bennett Balloon Races when they flew in any weather till they ran out of land, ballast or a storm drove them into the ground. Or a barnstormer traipsing across the country with a smoke balloon.
How about 150 years ago. Would you have been on one of the crews flying tethered observation balloons during the Civil War? Or maybe you were not in the US. Would you be one of the pilots that flew from Paris during the siege? Gives you something to think about.
Let's go farther back. What about 500 years ago? Would you be the person to fabricate a balloon that would take flight with hot air? What cloth would you use? What would you use for fuel? If you knew what you know today, could you have been the person that we all pay homage to? For some of you, there might be a chance. But for others, you'd have been a pirate, shopkeeper or mother. Nothing else. I can just see the holiday we might be celebrating today if the Murtorff Brothers had invented the hot air balloon.
One last thought. Do we really want the Competition Division in control of the BFA? I don't think so. But by running Dick Rudlaff and Bill Cunningham for the BFA Board in the coming elections, that's what the CD guys have in mind. They have an agenda of their own and it doesn't include the plain old fun flying balloonist. I am going to vote for Charlie Sundquist for the Open seat. You that can, need to vote for Earl Miller for the Southeast seat. Trust me on this one if you want there to be a future for the BFA.
From San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, E-mail: Murtorff@unisono.ciateq.mx