NAPA, Calif. (KTXL) — Floating across the sky while looking down at the world below in a giant balloon is a dream for many, and that dream becomes reality at Napa Valley Balloons.
Captain Chad Eckerman has been a Napa Valley Balloon pilot for seven years, and says there’s a lot of work that goes into making sure it’s all smooth sailing.
“First off, you got to have your crew. They’re the most important,” he said. “You’d think that the pilot is the most important, but you got to have a good crew.”
For Eckerman’s team, the work starts early by unloading heavy, 16-person baskets along with a massive balloon sheet that, incredibly, fits into a bean-bag sized pouch.
The fabric itself weighs about 500 pounds, according to Eckerman.
“We use gas-powered fans to do a cold-powered inflation to get the balloon to take shape,” Eckerman said. “Once it takes shape, the pilot will hop in and put heat into the balloon.”
With the crisp morning breeze on our side, the baskets are loaded, and we are ready for takeoff.
But it turns out that one of the lessons in hot air ballooning 101 is Mother Nature doesn’t always abide by your plans.
“Unfortunately, we got fogged out this morning. So instead of canceling on our passengers, sending them home with a frown, we give our guest the option to come to the Sacramento Valley and fly,” Eckerman said.
A different location, but still a breathtaking view of some mountains, Lake Berryessa and even a peek at the top of Sacramento’s skyline.
“Orchards as far as the eye can see, there’s almond and walnuts and sunflowers and wheat and tomato fields. Definitely different, more diverse agriculture, but I still think it’s beautiful,” Eckerman said.
At the end of the flight, a bumpy landing doesn’t mean the end of our incredible journey. In fact, it’s tradition to come together with your fellow balloon travelers for a champagne toast and comradery.
“People sometimes stay up to an hour afterwards. People make friends in the basket,” Eckerman said. “So it’s just a fun time for everyone to get together and socialize.”