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hot air balloon
Reading the wind

hot air balloon

Students in Kyoko Amano’s classes might be surprised that the English Department faculty member has an adventurous side.

“I flew hot balloons mostly in Japan, about three hours north of Tokyo,” Amano says. “When I was flying my balloon well, I felt like a wind-reader. Landings could be scary, though. I had so many hard landings when I misjudged the field below me or when the wind kicked up after I took off.  I liked ballooning because I got to make friends from all over the world. A Scottish pilot used to fly his balloon wearing a kilt and playing the bagpipe while he flew.”

X marks the spot

Amano, Kyoko“There are several kinds of competitions. Hare and Hound is an event where the competition organizer takes off in a balloon and 30 minutes to an hour later, the competition balloons take off after it. The hare lands before the hound balloons and sets up a target (a large X) on the ground. Each hound pilot has a little marker (a small sandbag with a streamer), and the one who throws the marker closest to the center of the X is the winner. Sometimes, the organizer will set up targets; competitors have to find them and then hit all the targets. These target-based events will sometimes be combined with an event called Elbow. Competitors need to hit the target, then return to the start. The balloon that makes the smallest angle is the winner.”

Not a fly-by-night thing

“These events usually take place right after sunrise and right before sunset when the wind is calm or nonexistent. It is illegal to fly balloons in the dark; they don’t show up on radar. And when the burner is not on, it’s hard to see them. Each event has a special memory for me, so it’s hard to say which one is my favorite, but in 1995, I participated in the World Championship in Battle Creek, Michigan. I also served as a crew member for an Albuquerque, New Mexico, event in 1996.

“Flying in Niigata, Japan, over snow-covered mountains in winter was beautiful, too, and after our flight, we would go to the hot spring spa to relax.”

“A perfect ending to the day.”