09/22/2011 09:06 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Destination: Up In The Air

As an aviation writer, when I write about travel it is usually all about the way we get to the places we go, but don't be confused, actually getting there is sometimes beside the point.

There are few vehicles less likely than a hot air balloon to actually transport you somewhere -- literally transport you that is.

Hot air balloon pilots are the only aviators who "don't know where they will launch, how long they will fly or where they are going to land," according to Daniel Cave, a retired balloon pilot who served as a "balloon meister" at the recent Plano Balloon Festival in Texas. "Most of us are not type A personalities."

This goes a long way toward explaining the universally cheery mood among the several dozen balloon pilots and crews who despite having driven across Texas and withstood a rainy Friday, were unable to get off the wet ground on Saturday either.

High winds and approaching storms are "not balloon friendly", said Ann Kirby, pilot of the brightly-colored Morning Kiss.


"We may average just one flight for every festival," said Ann, who attends a number of balloon events including Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, the mother of all festivals with hundreds of hot air balloons. Getting up in the air is just part of what drives her.

It's a family-oriented sport she said: "You don't have to get from A to B. It's more like a toy. This is a toy that is fun."


As dusk settled over a crowd gathered on the grounds of Oak Point Park, not far from Plano"s adorable downtown, Ann and the others hit the triggers on the blast valves of the propane burners. It is a noisy process. Huge tongues of flames race into the flat nylon envelopes and slowly the shapes begin to emerge, swelling to life in the evening dusk.


While all this is going on, the spectators are meandering around on the midway, eating Lord-knows-what, but it was either fried, seared or on-a-stick and vendors are selling tiny globes to children with stars in their eyes.

As night falls, air show announcer Glen Moyer of the Balloon Federation of America opens his iPad and starts playing over the speaker system, the kind of inspiring music that seems designed to accompany what's about to happen. With a countdown from the crowd, all the balloonists pull on their propane burners and with a mighty, noisy blast, huge globes of light begin glowing through the darkness.

It is a field of dreams come to life. No one has moved farther than their legs can take them but we are all transported.