Hot Air, Champagne and a Sword - Tom Tschida's First Balloon Ride

The view from the gondola of a hot-air balloon gives one a glimpse into the reasons why ballooning is a popular hobby, according to Tom Tschida, a photographer at NASA's Dryden Flight Research Center at Edwards, Calif.

Tschida experienced his first view from aloft in a hot air balloon named Peacock on a brisk morning during the 2009 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Tschida had only briefly seen a hot air balloon up close prior to the event.

"I hung out with the crew as the balloon was readied," Tschida recalled. "The pilot, Randy Wright, briefed the Peacock's crew about what would happen. A set of stairs was brought over for us to climb into the balloon. The crew did everything else," he added.

Tschida had previously done some skydiving, so he imagined that the experience would be similar. Once aloft, the flight was peaceful and calm as the balloon drifted, but he noted that the burst of flame from the burner used to heat the air that kept the balloon aloft was loud.

Tschida's photographic creative juices also flowed in different ways in the air. "Up in the balloon, I naturally shot more wide than I did on the ground to take advantage of the different perspectives," he said. "From the air you experience and see the whole thing and the view - which must be the biggest draw for balloonists."

As the balloon drifted over the Rio Grande , Wright dipped the balloon's gondola and its occupants in twice as part of a tradition, soaking them in cold water, before ascending again. Tschida admitted the landing was exhilarating and a bit rough as the gondola hit the ground and slid to a stop about 20 feet from its touchdown spot.

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