Hot Air Ballooning, Part II: The Chase Crew

One of our favorite things to explore is the behind-the-scenes action for an event, attraction, and other visitor-related business. They all make it look easy, they make it a great experience for our guests, and they share tidbits from their background and their connection to our area. One of our fascinations includes the role of the chase crew for Mystic Venture. We talked with a few of the crew members and it sounds like they have a great time and perspective as they define the path for each adventure.

Jack Moore
Jack Moore told us that one of his favorite aspects of crewing is meeting the folks who are going on the rides and their excitement and enjoyment of the trip. An experience that is dependent upon weather can be an experience just in the planning involved. The event is more interesting for people who choose to give a partner a surprise anniversary or birthday gift. Jack finds these trips even more fun, simply because of the added delight for the passengers.

Jack has been the Crew Chief for Mystic Venture for three years and has made sound friendships over time, talking with other crew members as they ride throughout Chatham County and take in the beauty of the landscapes. While riding, he has seen hawks’ nests, deer, and a variety of settings in different seasons and at times of the day from a totally different perspective.

Jack shared his list of crew duties, which include some primary tasks: assisting with the launching and landing of the balloon; not losing the balloon while in flight or if you do, finding it in time to be there when it lands to assure a safe landing location; getting permission from the property owner to land; and looking out for the safety of the passengers, pilot and any onlookers when taking off and landing.

Jack’s favorite experiences are the early morning flights. “It’s very quiet at sunrise, the turkeys gobbling on roost, and the deer running through the forest.”

Scott Goldsmith
Scott Goldsmith tells us he started crewing last summer. He says that mostly, he follows instructions, which sounds simple, but it’s definitely serious work. Scott and the crew unload the balloon (also called envelope) and basket, set it up, lay out the balloon, maintain the top line, and hold open the balloon while it is filled with air and heated.

Upon take-off, the crew’s excitement begins as they follow along and try to keep in touch. Occasionally, Scott may drive or watch the balloon or look at the map to figure out the best way to follow the balloon. When the balloon sets down, the crew needs to obtain clearance from the homeowner and determine how to get the balloon packed with the basket and loaded back in the trailer.

“Ballooning is always a challenge. You never know where the balloon will land and it’s an adventure. As a crew member, you feel a part of the production.”

John Justice
John Justice has been crewing for Mystic Venture for approximately two years. He tells us that in addition to the crew members’ primary responsibility of providing help as needed on the ground, they help with the launch and with the landing, when possible. “If we know where the balloon is going to land, and if we can get there before the balloon does, then we can check with the property owner, advise about winds on the ground and about the conditions of the landing site.” It doesn’t always happen just this way as the crew doesn’t always know where the balloon is going to land or whether it is far ahead of their position on the ground.

John told us that the balloon rarely travels faster than 15 – 20 miles per hour and it hardly seems possible that the ground crew wouldn’t be able to stay ahead of the balloon. However, one of the first things a passenger will notice is the just how much of Chatham County is wooded, with many very large areas not close to a paved road. The balloon follows the wind, often across miles of woodland. The chase vehicle, however, stays on the roads, so it must often travel many miles further than the balloon does.

“My favorite times are when we take passengers who haven’t flown before. These are often celebrations of special occasions. The excitement of the new experience is contagious. And it is a privilege to be part of a what may otherwise have been a private celebration. Sometimes these celebrations are a surprise for one of the passengers. The surprise flights can be, shall we say, memorable.”

John continues, “I still chuckle to myself about the couple that passed us while we were setting up on a cold winter morning. I heard she said something to hubby like ‘look at those nuts out there on a day like this’. About 30 minutes later she and hubby pulled into the field where we were setting up. They didn’t get out of the car for quite a while, and it was apparent they were in animated discussion. She told us before takeoff that there are two things she doesn’t like – being cold and being surprised – and hubby had just done both. She was a good sport and agreed to fly. Lo and behold she loved it. I’m pretty sure hubby was forgiven.”

John says that on occasion, the crew members have been passengers and that it helps them serve as better crew members when they can truly understand what happens aloft. The view is always spectacular and on a clear day, passengers will see the skyline of Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, and plenty of other landmarks. Fog rises over  Jordan Lake, the rivers, Siler City’s reservoir, and even large ponds on a cool morning. The ride is very quiet except when the balloon needs more heat. Passengers can hear dogs barking, people talking, cars – almost everything – even from several hundred feet up.

We asked about festivals and some of the Chatham County crew members have traveled with Mystic Venture to attend festivals. John tells us the events offer plenty of fun and some majestic sights, particularly when seeing 30, 40, 50 or more hot air balloons aloft at one time. “Being aloft among them is even beyond that.”

We thank the Mystic Venture crew and offer John’s fun fact to close: There’s rarely any sensation of wind while flying. Most of the time the balloon is traveling at the same speed and direction as the wind.