Fourth grade balloon ambassadors puffed up with excitement

Fourth grade balloon ambassadors puffed up with excitement

BISMARCK — Fourth-graders Madeline Thorlton and Layton Kincaid couldn't have been more excited to get to school Tuesday at Bismarck-Henning Elementary.

Their inexplicable eagerness just one day before summer break likely had a lot to do with the colorful patchwork hot air balloon filling their gym, from floor to rafters and stage to bleachers.

Madeline succinctly summed up the excitement she felt on her way to school Tuesday, knowing she and the other kids in Mia Petersen's class would get to walk inside a balloon.

"100 out of 100," she said, grinning.

To promote the return of a hot air balloon festival to Vermilion County this summer — July 15-16 at the Vermilion Regional Airport — the Danville Balloon Group brought the "Sunnyside Up" hot air balloon, piloted by Donna Carlton Vish, to Bismarck-Henning Elementary on Tuesday morning for "balloon school."

With the seven-story-high balloon on its side, the crew inflated it "halfway" with a large fan — no hot air required for this "cold inflation." Then the fourth-graders, in sock feet, walked through the mouth of the balloon and took a seat inside for a quick lesson in ballooning from Vish, while students in other grades gathered in the bleachers to watch and learn.

Even half-inflated, the balloon's size impressed Layton.

"I've actually never been inside a balloon," he explained. "I thought it would be a lot smaller. But when you go inside, it's huge. I felt like my eyes got big, because it was huge inside."

At the actual event in July, organizers will run a more in-depth balloon school for kids that's open to all festival goers. Tuesday's event in Bismarck was the preview.

Vish covered the parts of a hot air balloon — the gondola, mouth, envelope, even a little history (the first manned hot air balloon flight was Nov. 21, 1783), some ballooning terms (PIC means Pilot in Command) and a few fun facts:

— Vish said a small passenger balloon system like "Sunnyside Up" — including the basket, propane tanks and people — weighs more than 1,000 pounds. Larger balloons, like the nine-story one piloted by her brother, Dean Carlton, are even heavier.

— Vish said she generally flies her balloon between 500 and 1,500 feet above ground. But she has been as high as 8,669 feet in the air.

— The envelope, or balloon, is made of ripstop nylon, coated with silicone. The bottom portion of the envelope that's closer to the flame is made of a fire-resistant material called Nomex that's also in firefighter jackets and race car drivers' suits.

— Hot air from the burner above the basket makes it rise, and opening a hole in the envelope lets hot air escape, lowering the balloon.

— To lift off, the temperature inside a balloon generally must be at least 100 degrees warmer than the air outside. But the air inside can't get too hot, either, and should stay below 250 degrees.

— And balloons "steer" by catching different wind directions at different altitudes.

"That's one of the reasons I love ballooning," Vish told the students.

Earlier this spring, organizers of the event chose Mrs. Petersen's class to be their student ambassadors, so the kids have been studying science concepts in ballooning and other aspects of the sport since then. Madeline said the class has conducted balloon experiments, even making their own out of helium balloons to see whose could float the longest.

"It was really cool and fun to learn about the balloon and parts and how it goes up and comes down," she said.

But her favorite part? Putting it away, she said.

After the school assembly, Mrs. Petersen's class stayed in the gym to help the crew deflate, roll up and put the balloon back in its bag. It amazed the kids that it fit.

Madeline liked getting to touch the material.

"It felt all silky and slick," she said.

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