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03.2001

38

Experience of others can help prepare you for the unexpected!

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Hangar Flying

edited byGeorge Denniston

Riding a Warm Front

by Rolla Hinkle

IfeltIhadjustboughtthefarm.Dick
WaggonerandIhadscheduledaflight
earlyinthemorninginRoswell,New
Mexico for a bunch of doctors. We would
getoff at about daylight,whichwasun-
usual. It was unusual at that time because
weusuallysataroundanddrankcoffee
untilwe got the gutsto go. But we had a
big schedule in front of us: about eight or
ten people tofly.
We flewand weflew.WewentSouth-
east out of Roswell down towards the big
horsefarm,whichhadallthesemillion
dollar horses. These were some of the top
quarter horses in the country. We played
aroundin some fields andthen flew back
north a little bit. We used up a lot of fuel
inthe process.
Therewas one lady who hadn’t flown
yet by the name of Priscilla Montgomery.
I will never forget her. She was a doctor’s
wife.Ihadaboutfifteenpercentonone
tankandmaybeeighteenpercentonthe
other.Isaid,“Well,letthisbethelast
flight of the morning.” It lookedlike the
wind was going to carry me back towards
the horse farm so I figured we’d fly to the
endofanearbyalfalfafield—aquarter
mile flight—and then we would be done.
I went down the field. As I ascended,
all of a sudden the wind picked up quite a
bit. I was really moving so I said, “Rather
than go over the horses low, I better go up
to 1500 feet so I don’t disturb them. There
area lotof milliondollar plus liabilities
down there.”So overthe horses Iwent.As
I roseto1500feetI suddenlyrealizedI

couldn’tstopthe balloonfrom going up.
Soonwewereclimbingat500feeta
minute.IhadcooleditoffandIsaidto
myself,“Ohboy,I’vegotmeagiant
thermal,somethingIsuredon’twant.”
Then it went up 600 feet a minute. Pretty
soon I was going up at 1000 feet a minute.
The next thing I knew I was locked up at
the limit,whichon thatold balloonwith
the old rate meter was 2500 feet a minute.
I waslockedup! I saidto myself, “What
onearthisgoingon?Thismustbethe
giant of all thermals!”
I was really confused because every-
thing sounded great. I dared sneak a look
atmypassengerandshewashavinga
great flight. She couldn’t believe it was so
beautiful. And I was scaredtodeath. But
thelastthingyoueverwanttodoislet
your passengers know you are worried or
scared. I hadnever beenin anythinglike
that. I don’t know how long it was before
Idaredlookatthealtimeter.I couldn’t
believe it. I was around 11,000 feet. Since
IwasflyingoverRoswellthatmadeit
about 8000feet above groundlevel.
Theairbasehasabigoldrunway
abou t12,00 0-14,000feetlongandit
looked giant when we started out. Now it
wasgettingsmallerandsmaller.Itwas
onlya couple of inches long. I was really
a white-knucklecasebynow.I feltlike
maybewehadalreadycrashedandthis
wasjust the way it feelstogo toheaven.
But I am a pretty sensible guy and I said to
myself, “No, I still have mysenses about
me.” We were still lockedup at the limit

and I knew I had to keep it warm and I was
usingupwhat littlefuelI hadleftdoing
this. But I knew keepingit warm was the
keytoflyingthroughthermals. Youhad
tokeeptheballoonataneventempera-
ture. I believe we wereflying between one
hundredandeightytotwohundredde-
grees F. I was trying to hold it at about one
ninety. In order to do that you have to keep
a littleheattotheballoon. Myfuelwas
getting lower but it didn’t bother memuch
yet.WhatwasbotheringmewasIwas
afraidthisthermalmightlastwellover
12,000feetwhereyoumightgetsome
oxygendeprivation,meaningyougeta
littleeuphoricandeverythingbecomes
fantastic.
Istartedgruntbreathingatabout
11,500feettoreallyforce the oxygenin
my system. My passenger kept asking me
“What’sthe matter?”Isaid, “I wasjust
coughing a little bit.” I would make a little
noiseandthisassuredherandshere-
sumedlookingoutanddeclaringhow
fantastic it was. I was scared to death. As
we approached12,000 feet, we were still
climbing. I hadbeen burningall the way
up there. Finally we were only going up at
about 800 feet per minute. I thought, “Oh
boy,we’recoming out ofit, so Ibetterstay
warm.”I droppedtoaboutonehundred
and seventy degrees and at the same time
theair hadgottenquite abitcolder soI
was really burning hotter than I should be.
I looked around and I couldn’t believe the
world had almost gone away.
Mypassengerasked,“Youevergo

37

www.balloonlife.com

03.2001

up this high?” I said, “Oh no, not very
much.” I really didn’t want to talk much
becauseIwasstillscaredtodeath.I
thought, “Well, we’re coming out of it.”
And then the altimeter went back to limit
up. I thought, “Oh no! What’s happen-
ing?”By now I knew we were on our way
to the big balloon in heaven.Finally it
stopped rising somewhere around 14,000
feet, and we started to fall. I cooled it back
downto one hundredand seventydegrees
and I told Priscilla, “I’m going to let it
fall.” We fell and soon we were at about
1000 feet a minute down. I said, “We’ve
gottofalla longways. We can’tkeepa lot
of heatin thisthing because we now have
almost zero fuel on one side and it looks
likewe are burningbetween zero and five
onthe other.” It stillmakesme shudder to
even remember what happened.
When Istartedtoslowthe balloonup,
I figured Icould carry it atabout one
hundred and fifty degrees and it would
still be on the edge. In fact, I slowed it
downjustenoughwiththattankI hadfuel
in to know that I was at least a little bit
above terminal velocity which is around
1000 to 1100 feet a minute. Somewhere
around 8000 feet we started to stop and I
said, “Oh no! Not again!” We were start-
ing to climb again at 500 feet a minute.
Butitwasonlytemporary. Laterwedeter-
mined I probably ran into a strip of pretty
cold air and itjust slowed me back down.
I could hardlywaitto pullthe top out
of thatballoon.I didn’teven want tothink
aboutflyingagain.Whenwefinally
reached the ground my crew was right
there to catch me on a total burnout land-
ing. After pullingthe top, I jumped outof
that balloon and Ilay there kissing the

ground. Dick Waggoner looked atme and
said, “Well, how was it at the Mile High
Club?”God knowsI wasn’teventhinking
about it that day. That was probably the
most scared I had ever been in that bal-
loon. I said, “How did it look up there?”
Waggoner said, “You looked like a BBin
the sky.”
Later that day I called FlightService
to ask them what had happened with the
weather that morning. They said that a
stationary cold front was right along the
Pecos River with a warm front moving
over the top of it at a pretty good pace.
What that air movement did ineffect was
pickour wholeballoonupand move itjust
like it was a thermal. Once we got to a
certain level it cut out and later cut back
underneath thecoldairmass. Itwas really
funny that it carried us so high and that I
never noticed an oxygen problem. I tell
everyone if it happens to them, stay with
itbecause youcan outlastitaslong as you
have a little fuel.

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This story from Rolla Hinkle’s
n ew b oo k, No n-S che du led
Flights Into the Unknown (Ter-
minating in Controlled Crashes)
.
The book is full of tales of an
early ba lloonist, all pretty hu-
morous. If you enjoyed this
Hangar Flying, you will like the
book. The book is approximately
100 printed pages.
Cost$23 postpaid. Make check
payable to Rolla Hinkle II and
send to 303 Coal, Ruido so, NM
8834 5.

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HANGAR FLYING with George Den-
niston is presented to enhance safe flying
by providing balloonists the opportunity
to gain experience from others without
actually flying. The column is edited by
George Denniston who is a doctor and
balloonist living in Seattle, Washington.
Articles may be signed or anonymous to
protect the privacy of those involv ed, as
the author wishes. If you have an experi-
ence th at you would like to share with
others, send your manuscript to Balloon
Life magazine, Hangar Flying with
George Denniston, 2336 47th Ave SW,
Seattle, WA 98116-2 331. Submissions
may be typewritten, submitted on disk
(Mac or IBM format), or e-mailed to
tom@balloonlife.com. Balloon Life pays
$35 for each story used.

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