At 6:05 p.m., pilots
and crews got the thumbs up to take adventuring media members, some
flying for the first time, up into the sultry Lincoln skies.
Lincoln Daily News
was assigned to ride in Sun Kissed, a 90,000-cubic-inch,
double-burner balloon owned by New Hollander Randy Conklen. The crew
of four whisked us away to a local lot in Chautauqua Commons for the
preparation for our ascension.
The experienced crew
included pilot Randy Conklen, Beth Green, Ross Green, who is also a
licensed pilot, and 12-year-old Matt Waylon, who has had his own
share of flying and crewing.
In two years, Matt
will take his junior pilot's license, which ranks right up there
with a driver's license. "I want both," he stated, as he and the
crew prepared the gondola and situated the envelopes (balloon
fabric) for inflation.
Matt worked alongside
his crew with the precision of an old pro. He strapped the double
burner onto the gondola and assisted the crew in securing the cord
to the bars. Cheryl Frank also volunteered, sporting borrowed gloves
and sweating alongside the rest of us.
While ballooning can
get expensive -- new balloons run about $25 thousand to $30 thousand
a pop (no pun intended) -- this crew balloons for fun, not profit.
Ross Green, a marketing student at Western Illinois University,
anchored himself to the top of the balloon while Conklen and Waylon
ran the fan and the burners. Beth Green secured the velcroed top
envelopes to the main fabric, allowing the balloon the fill with hot
air. She explained that Conklen would release these once the ascent
began, allowing the heated air to carry us.
These FAA certified
pilots worked with speed and accuracy. Pilot Conklen and the LDN
crew were off the ground by 6:21 p.m.