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Saturday, Mar 28, 2015
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Hot air balloon rides offer escape from summer doldrums

Hernando Today correspondent


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Instead of sitting around waiting for a breeze this summer, try riding one with a hot air balloon ride from a Tampa company.

Tampa’s Celebration Aviation offers balloon rides from various launch sites throughout the Tampa Bay region, including Lutz, Land ‘O’ Lakes, New Tampa, Odessa, Wesley Chapel, and Zephyrhills.

“It’s not like any other form of flying,” said David Justice, a hot air balloon pilot for Celebration Aviation. “If you put a blindfold on, you probably would never know you left the ground. It is that gentle.”

Because balloons travel with the wind, the ride is usually very gentle and smooth. Good visibility and light winds under 6 knots, or 7 mph, are a requirements for flight. Most flights take off just after sunrise, when winds are most stable.

“The balloon moves at the speed of the wind as part of it. It moves with the wind,” Justice said. “On the ground, your hair could be blowing from the wind, but in the balloon, it doesn’t. It is almost like you are hanging there and the world slowly passes by underneath you.”

Burners fueled by propane gas heat the air inside the balloon, causing it to lift. It usually takes about 30 minutes to inflate a balloon and prepare for flight. Most hot air balloons can carry two to four passengers, plus the pilot.

Depending on wind speed, an hour long flight can carry the balloon up to 10 miles.

Most balloonists fly from tree level to about 3,000 feet in the air. Balloon pilots will fly at varying altitudes to find wind currents of various direction to fly to a suitable landing spot.

A chase crew stays in contact with the balloon pilot via radio and airborne trackers and meets the balloon upon landing, taking you back to your car.

Celebration Aviation hot air balloon rides cost $185 per adult and $160 per child. Children must be tall enough to see over the edge of the basket. Private flights for two are available for $475 per couple.

As a tradition, hot air balloon rides end with a complimentary champagne toast!

Wear comfortable cotton clothing for the flight. Shorts and pants are most practical. No high heels or open toed shoes. And be sure to bring a camera!

For reservations, contact Celebration Aviation at (813) 884-5610 or for more info, visit

Hernando Today correspondent Heather Francis can be reached at

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