The Billings Outpost

Balloons fly in peace

By JANE WHITE - The Billings Outpost

Hot air ballooning can be so much fun! An avid hot air ballooning customer, Chris Williams of Arlington, Va., says, “You don’t feel like you are falling - the earth is falling below you: You are floating!”

He says he knows other balloon enthusiasts who want to take a balloon ride in all 50 of the United States. He says he enjoys hot air balloon rides so much he has gone once in Pittsburgh, Pa., and twice in Arizona.

“Purple, orange, yellow; the colors in Sedona were so vivid,” he says. “There was even an ethereal quality to the balloon ride - the morning mist was just rising, blurring the lines of the beautiful desert landscape ... . But, you know, it was loud; whenever the balloon needed to move, our operator made this big blast with the propane.”

Balloon lovers gathered last weekend in Billings for the Magic City Hot Air Balloon Rally, a chance to take a slow peaceful ride to appreciate gorgeous country landscapes.

A champagne toast traditionally follows a balloon flight, sometimes with a trick on new riders. This happened to me on my first hot air balloon ride in Colorado Springs, Colo. A hot air balloon owner and operator told me I had to kneel on the ground and drink champagne out of a cup with my hands tied behind my back or I was not a true ballooner.

Thirsty for champagne after a bumpy landing in which the basket skipped and jumped over red dirt mounds and grassy knolls, I knelt and was just about to grasp the cup with my teeth to drink its contents, when I was doused with a cold blast of champagne all over my head, hair, and shirt. Baptized a balloon rider, I was finally offered a flute full of champagne to drink with unbound hands.

Montana and Oregon residents also have terrible memories of military balloons invading their states at the closure of World War II. Ellen Baumler, an interpretive historian who writes the Montana Moments blog and also books for the Montana Historical Society, shares her stories of the appearance of Japanese “Fire Balloons” in Montana.

Here is her April 2 Montana Moments blog post: “Historian Jon Axline tells a story about Oscar Hill and his son, who in 1944 were cutting firewood seventeen miles southwest of Kalispell. They found a strange parachute-like object with Japanese writing and a rising sun symbol stenciled on it. Sheriff Duncan McCarthy took the object to a Kalispell garage.

“Rumors flew and soon five hundred people crowded into the garage to take a look. It turned out to be a Japanese balloon rigged to carry a bomb. It was the beginning of an aerial attack on the United States by Imperial Japan as World War II wound down.

“In November of 1944, the Japanese began launching hydrogen-filled paper balloons believing the jet stream would carry them to North America. The attached incendiary and anti-personnel bombs would start forest fires and kill civilians. The Japanese also intended the balloon bombs as psychological weapons, designed to cause confusion and spread panic. The Japanese called them Fu-Go, ‘Windship Weapons.’ They were the first intercontinental weapons, a low tech predecessor to the ballistic missiles of the late twentieth century.”

And here is the post about an Oregon family’s devastating demise: “By April 1945, the Japanese launched over nine thousand balloons. Only 277 reached the United States and Canada. Only one caused injuries, killing picnickers when they inadvertently detonated one of the bombs. The project was a failure. A voluntary news blackout in the United States kept the Japanese from discovering if the balloons landed. At least thirty-two balloon bombs reached Montana between 1944 and 1945. A hiker discovered the last one hanging from a tree southwest of Basin in 1947.”

“Axline points out that balloon bombs in Montana proved that the state was not as isolated and free from world events as the public thought.”


Copyright 2012 Wild Raspberry Inc.

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