By Sarah Mauet
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
something magical about spying the bright colored speck of a hot-air balloon peacefully floating thousands of feet above the
ground. There's something even more magical about being in the balloon.
"It's a nice colorful way to start the morning,"
Ron K. Miller, the pilot, said. "Flying a hot-air balloon is whimsical in nature. Every day is an adventure."
has been piloting hot-air balloons for 23 years and flies in Vail, Colo., and Kelowna, Canada, as well as in Tucson, Arizona.
"This is an excellent area to fly," Miller said. "We have great flying conditions almost all the time. Ninety-five percent
of the time we can fly."
Miller arrived at 7:45 on a recent cold but clear morning to prepare for the launch.
It took him and his two-person ground crew about 15 minutes to inflate the 70-foot-tall vibrantly colored balloon.
Jacque Huttoe and Jim Haas arrived at 8 a.m. ready for their flight. The Florida couple surprise each other once a month
with an adventure. This month, Huttoe surprised Haas with an impromptu trip to do something he's long dreamed of doing.
"I have a wish list of things to do, and on the list was a hot-air balloon ride," Haas said.
When the balloon
was ready, Miller presented "Ballooning 101": Stay in the basket at all times. He also listed the five unknowns of every hot-air
balloon flight: direction, height, distance, speed and where they'd land. Because hot-air balloons depend on the breeze to
move, there's no way to predict how the flight will go.
"I've had more than 6,000 balloon flights, and I still don't
know those things," Miller laughed.
The passengers climbed in with Miller and he fired the burners above their heads,
filling the balloon with hot air. The balloon slowly lifted off the ground and hovered at treetop height for about five minutes.
"We like to do that to give people a sense of the balloon," Miller said. "We then do a very slow climb."
who is scared of heights, said she enjoyed the flight. Because the balloon drifts along with air currents, the basket hangs
motionlessly in the air.
"You don't even realize it," she said. "He takes you up very slowly and lets you get comfortable
before taking you up higher. It's a lot like sailing. It's so peaceful and quiet."
The balloon lifted about 2,000
feet and headed southwest and then north. Miller's two assistants followed the balloon in a van and kept in radio contact
during the flight. After an hour in the air, Miller directed the crew to a clearing where he decided he could land.
breeze was blowing at about 5 miles per hour, and the crew grabbed the sides of the basket while it was still 6 inches above
the ground and directed it to a soft landing spot. The crew deflated the balloon, rolled it up and loaded it and the basket
into a trailer behind the van. Miller drove the couple back for a champagne and gourmet breakfast in a gazebo by a pond.
"It was much more than I expected," Haas said of the experience. "The worst thing you can say in life is 'I wish I had.'
I highly recommend it."