Going UP! Balloon rides come to BI
No need to keep your feet on the ground next week.
If winds cooperate, a hot air balloon will be on Block Island for the first time in 50 years or so from Sunday, July 8, through Thursday, July 12. The balloon will remain tethered to the ground, but will ascend up to 60 feet in the air. There’s no set price for the rides, but donations will benefit the Early Learning Center, which organized the event.
“The energy has been building, and all the parents are excited,” said ELC Director Susan Black. “It’s an opportunity to offer something unique to the island.”
So when was the last time a hot air balloon was here? First Warden Kim Gaffett gave some buoyancy to the answer as she told a short tale at last week’s Town Council meeting.
“Many years ago, my grandfather sponsored balloon rides,” Gaffett related. “I always regretted that I was too young to go — my father wouldn’t give permission, even though my grandfather was sponsoring it… so I can’t wait” for these rides.
Island residents and visitors will be catching some air only if the weather obliges – winds cannot exceed about 10 mph. Each trip will hold four people and last about 10 minutes. The rides, with no reservations accepted because they are dependent on weather, are planned for early morning and evening of each day. On July 8 and 12, the event will be held outside The Sullivan House, and on July 9 and 10 on the field owned by the Narragansett Inn that is in front of the Oar.
There will also be activities for children while waiting in line, such as ball games, parachuting and yoga.
“We are cooperating with other events and organizations on the island,” said Black. At The Sullivan House, the July 8 rides will be in conjuction with the Block Island Wedding Show; the July 12 rides will be in support of ConserFest across the street at the beach. The Narragansett will also host a cook-out on July 9, with food provided by local restaurants.
The ELC is looking for volunteers to help with the event, including with games, holding the balloon tethers and help individuals climb in and out of the basket.
Brighter Skies Ballooning, owned by Bruce Byberg, is offering the rides. “Experience what it’s like to take off and land on the first form of flight,” he urged by phone this week. Byberg will be on each flight, and will answer questions regarding the balloon and ballooning history.
The rides will be an educational experience for both children and parents, said Black. Did you know, for example, that the first tethered balloon flight was in 1783? Two brothers from France, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier, built their balloon “made of paper and held with glue and buttons,” explained Byberg. After first experimenting by transporting animals, they lifted off for the first flight of man. Byberg further explained that the brothers thought that it was the smoke — instead of the heat — that made the balloon fly, so they heated it with the smokiest fire, but in doing so, the smoke actually sealed the balloon, making it more airtight.
Of course, balloons have come a long way since paper and smoke. Byberg’s balloon will be 80 feet tall, 60 feet wide, and measure about 105,000 cubic feet (for reference, a birthday balloon is about 1 cubic foot). Byberg has also given balloon rides to Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, the camp helping children with Sickle Cell Anemia started by Paul Newman — and yes, he’s given rides to Paul Newman himself.
Byberg’s interest in balloons began about 20 years ago, and in addition to commercial flights, he has spent four months flying in Norway, and has a balloon in Mexico he flies during the winter months when the weather is best down there. Many flights he does are free to soar with the winds, but some, as in the case of the ELC, are tethered. Byberg is insured and will not ask riders to sign a waiver.
“If it’s breezy, the tethered flights may go up only 30 feet,” he said. “While it may not look like that high from the ground, from the air 30 feet looks like a hundred.”
Byberg, a regular visitor to Block Island, had originally expressed interest in personally donating to another ELC raffle. Black received his donation, and on it she noticed the name of his company, which floated her interest. While Byberg usually charges for his rides, he offered to come for free in hopes of supporting the ELC. The Harborside and Old Town Inn are to provide complementary lodging for him.
“I really hope that weather cooperates and we raise money for ELC,” said Byberg. “And that it puts smiles on everyone’s faces.”