All photos and text ©Lynna Howard. Do not use without permission. Thank you.


"Yeah, put the thingy in the whatchamacallit, and don’t forget the widget." —Barbi Hann, Balloon Meister. "The one common denominator is that all the balloons fly and all the balloonists are fools." —Bob Hann.

    Pilot briefing started about 6 AM, at dawn. “In the Valley there are no red areas...nobody called back like they did last year saying we’ve got foals over here, we have new cattle, whatever. So, there are no red areas. We don’t want you buzzin’ cattle. Manmade ponds that are of a decorative nature, like the one in front of Huntsman Springs, you don’t want to go there. No splashing and dashing in manmade ponds. There’s a lot of marsh area. It could be kind of wet, so just be careful...There is a NOTAM filed for this event, and there is a TFR popping up tomorrow over the hill, so if you’re planning on going over the hill, Cheney will be in town. Please be nice to our fixed wing brethren. There are some big airplanes at this airport. ”

Ernie Hartt unpacks the gear needed to put his hot air balloon system together. He fits all his gear into a Toyota truck with a lift gate on the back. Most balloonists pull a trailer, but Ernie  packs his gondola tight and manages to get by without a trailer.

Pilot Tom Gough fills the gas tank on his fan. Balloons are inflated on the ground with cold air first. This pilot’s balloon is a Thunder and Colt type.

Ernie gets help from his wife, Jenny Wolf, and prospective passenger, Mark Mason, to lift the burners onto the frame. The upright frame supports the burners overhead as well as providing the cable attachment points for the envelope. The basket (gondola) is lifted by the envelope.

Ernie and Mark hold the balloon open while a high-speed fan pushes cold air into the throat.

A balloon in the background is fully inflated and ready to lift off. In the foreground, Ernie works with his crew to complete his pre-flight routine.

After using a fan to fill the balloon with cold air, Ernie is ready to fire the propane burners. He begins with the gondola on its side, then slowly assists the basket to an upright position as the balloon fills with hot air. The burners run on liquid propane.

With his balloon rising upright on blasts of hot air, Ernie controls the propane burners, while Jenny (the small figure pulling hard in the background) steadies the envelope so that it rises up straight, and doesn't go to far and fall to the other side.

Bob and Barbi Hann's balloon is fully inflated and ready to lift off.

That's our shadow down there! With two freelancers aboard, Ernie has lifted off. His ground crew packs up and the chase cars will soon be on the move.

The pilot fires dual propane burners to keep the balloon aloft. We are carrying 40 pounds of liquid propane. At more than 6,000 feet above sea level a balloonist can't stay aloft as long as at sea level. The burners are noisy, a sharp contrast to the silence when one is drifting with the light wind. A “whisper” function lets the pilot fire the burners in quieter mode when passing over livestock or wildlife.

We go up, we go down. When we descend to near treetop level we have a great view of the winding irrigation ditches that water farms and ranches in Teton Valley.

Moveable pipes form part of the irrigation system in Teton Valley. Our pilot lines up for an irrigation-sprinkler shower, but steers just above it so we won’t get our cameras wet.

Our pilot scored a “field goal” by flying the gondola between the two cottonwood trees you see in the upper left of this photo. Flying low, we cast a sharp shadow over Teton Valley fields.

Distant balloons are a ghostly presence over the peaks of The Grand Tetons.

Sunrise hazes The Grand Tetons and backlights a sprinkler system in the valley.

The shadow of our balloon flows over the curves of an irrigation ditch to create an ephemeral work of art.

A pond in Teton Valley mirrors a balloon. Our pilot descends and dips our feet into the water (except for his—he sits up on the basket edge).

Sprinkler pipes in Teton Valley provide an obstacle course for low-flying balloonists.

As the balloon crosses a pond and sandbar, its shadow is sharply delineated on the sand, but the outline of the envelope fades to transparency over the water.

The highest peak in The Grand Tetons is topped off with a balloon riding high. Early morning haze ghosts the mountains. We lifted off just before 7 AM, and the sun was well over the horizon when we drifted past the Valley's famous view.

Ernie keeps the lines in order before the balloon is packed up. He set the gondola down so gently on the side of the road that we passengers didn't get to use our flexed knees, nor did we need the handholds we had grabbed, as instructed.

The shadow of our balloon crosses a road near a field chosen for another balloon's landing. We continue to the next road, where Ernie sets the balloon down about 15 yards from the chase car.

Ernie's ground crew walked the gondola across the road so he could deflate the envelope and lay it down in the grass. It takes effort and muscle to pack up the envelope.

Three men and careful timing is needed to bag the envelope.

Danny Trussell, pilot Ernie Hartt, and passenger Mark Mason take a break before the final heave-ho with the re-bagged balloon.

After the balloon is packed up and we return to the Fairgrounds, Ernie and Jenny set up a post-balloon celebration, complete with champagne, cheese, crackers, and cake. They anoint first-time passengers by dribbling champagne over their heads. We do also get to drink the champagne, and recite this toast:

The winds have welcomed you with softness.

The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.

You have flown so high and so well that God joined you in laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth.

The “toast” is actually an adaptation of “the balloonist’s prayer.” As Ernie says, “it bothers people if we pray before we lift off.”