Some shifty breezes bobbled the basket before liftoff, setting the
newbie Pavlik a bit on edge. But on launch, the balloon quickly
gained altitude and the trio sped away to the northwest. The mild
evening allowed for the smoothest of flights, and for those in the
Bottoms Up balloon, it was a perfect soft landing about 5 miles away
as the crow flies.
Before the time to land, Kleiss got a feel for
the wind direction at various altitudes. Coming over Kickapoo Creek
at Nicholson Road, she started looking for a field to put down in.
Kleiss dropped down and the wind took her left, where she saw a
cornfield with a washed-out area, a good spot.
"Being raised a farm girl, I like to be careful about crops,"
Kleiss said. She doesnít want any damage to the crop.
So, while husband, Mike, checked with the farmer, Betsy and
passengers waited in the basket with the balloon still inflated.
The gentle laughter that comes only of camaraderie gained through
a shared experience filtered through the field. Reflecting on her
first flight with a look of joy, Pavlik said she was a little
nervous at first when she tried to look straight down. It scared her
to be so high.
"Then I learned to look out a way, and I began to see things, to
look down on the corn ... and it wasn't so bad. Later, I could look
down," she said.
Ramlow agreed it was a beautiful sight, and she, too, thoroughly
enjoyed the flight.
Pilot Kleiss was raised in Seymour and her husband in Tuscola --
farm country. They live in Champaign now.
[to top of second column]
Betsy said that Dave Reineke, who pilots the city of Lincoln
balloon, brought her along in learning to fly. Her first year in
Lincoln, 1996, she flew with Reineke, he as pilot in command, and
the next year she had her pilotís license and her first balloon. In
'98 she got her commercial license, and now Kleiss has about 580
hours of flight time.
"Safety is first," she says.
Pilots take every precaution, going through rituals and
checklists before flights. Preflight includes weather briefings.
While not required outside of controlled airspace, pilots commonly
carry hand-held radios to listen for local traffic and to apprise
one another of their locations. Equipment is carefully checked,
baskets are examined, lines are checked to make sure they are secure
and not tangled. One of the more important balloon devices are the
carabiners. These are the latches that hold the lines between the
basket and the envelope, locking the lines into the basket. The
locks are checked carefully each flight.
Kleiss speaks fondly when naming her past balloons. There was
Flambango, named by her daughter for its hot pink colors and
difficulty saying the word flamingo when she was young; Hot Flash --
the name speaks for itself; and now thereís Bottoms Up with its
black arrows pointing down from the top and up from the bottom.
Crewing for Kleiss were Bob and Paula Rutherford, of Chestnut,
and Jamie Beard.
While the crew was wrapping up the balloon envelope, they began
pushing themselves to a huffing stage. The envelope is quite large
and heavy. It takes some manhandling, or woman handling, and a
coordinated effort to re-contain it.
Betsy urged the group to take their time. "I donít want this to
be work," she said. "I'm here to have fun and to be safe."
[By JAN YOUNGQUIST]