Monday, 29 July 2002

The fried air business really exists.

During an evening shift in SUMit HQ I see a threesome cars passing by. It is a caravan of companies where you can lease fried air. Customers follow them with great enthusiasm, even though they do not know what to expect.

This business fascinates me. These customers are great, paying to see air go up in the air. I take a break, go out and follow the caravan.

The business is more legitimate than it may sound. The name of the game is ballooning (ballonvaren.com). I'd love to float an hour in silence, with an unknown destination, while enjoying the view. One day I'll climb into the basket. Not now though. I'm here to satisfy my curiosity, as the following question occupies my mind for years:

How to fill a balloon with hot air?

When the filled balloon is up the flames from the burner can go straight up, between the sail. But how do they do that when the sail is still on the floor? The answers is of an unexpectedly simple: they inflate the balloon first. A giant fan transforms the sail into a wobbly giant of cold air.

The giant wiggles a bit, rolls from one side to the other. The customers, all unexperienced balloonists, run around with excitement. Great to see how they have to run to escape the rolling giant.

At the top there is a hole. The fan blows air on one side that escapes at the far end. A round piece of sail is installed, a plug that closes the hole from the inside. The giant now quickly gets bigger and bigger, obtains more and more a balloon shape.

When the balloon is the size of a small apartment building the burner is ignited. The hole at the bottom is now large enough. There is no more danger for the sail to burn. My curiosity has been satisfied.

With amazing speed the balloon erects and proudly shows PH-AGT, his Dutch aircraft registration. The giant is now completely transformed into an airship that can't wait to ascend. A line is all that grounds him. The customers nervously climb into the basket. Farewell sayers haste to shout a final goodbye. As soon as the line is released the balloon goes up.

My break is over. Upon return to SUMit headquarters the balloon is already out of sight. These hot air traders move faster than I thought.

Till next week,

Fare well home to Antoinette, Lulu, Maxi & Brolloks.