"I don't get it," Sir WHIP's fearsome (sometimes) brows frowned in confusion. You've ridden on the backs of majestic and magical creatures – owls and dragons! – and yet you want to drift around helplessly, not to mention s-l-o-w-l-y, through the sky all morning? What's up with that?"
"Silly! Because it's a beautiful day, and riding a balloon slowly through the sky leaves our hands free to take pictures instead of holding on for dear life while you show off your loop-de-loop skills," Ro laughingly explained, patting Sir WHIP's cheek with great affection, and then tied a hoodie by its sleeves around her waist. She grabbed her sunglasses and headed into the living room to see who else was ready. The sun was just turning the sky a pinkish gray, so they needed to get going very soon or they would be late.
"I can fly slow and smooth," Sir WHIP said, following Ro into the kitchen to grab a juice pack and slice of peanut butter bread.
She turned to face him eye to eye (he'd made himself just about her height) and said, "I know you can, but it's still a different thing. I love flying with you. It's exciting and giggly and I know that you will protect me wherever we go. But a balloon ride is…just…different. It's like going for a ride in the car. You could get us there faster every time, but it's fun to ride with the family and look out the windows, play car games and plan what we'll do when we get to our destination."
Sir WHIP shook his head. "Still don't get it."
"Well then, why don't you come with us as see for yourself?"
"Oh sure, they probably don't even let dragons ride in balloons!"
"Sure they do, if the dragon in question shrinks himself into a pocket and pretends to be a toy dragon!" Ro hinted, and Sir WHIP pursed his lips and nodded, considering.
"Hmmm. I guess it would be more exciting than sitting around here all morning," he said.
"That's the spirit!" Ro said, and when Sir WHIP had shrunken himself down to action figure size, she picked him up and headed for Jo's room.
"Does your shirt have a pocket?" she asked her brother.
"Uh oh," Jo said, smiling. "Somebody wants to hitch a ride?" he asked, looked pointedly at Sir WHIP, nestled in the crook of Ro's arm, sitting on his butt, his sparkly orange tail sticking through the fold of her arm behind him, his tiny arms folded behind his head, cozy and safe in his friend's care.
"You got it. I think he's feeling a little left out and confused about why the family would want to fly with anyone but him – or BEN Owl."
"Dude, it's just different." Jo echoed his sister's earlier words, to Sir WHIP's frustration. He allowed Jo to scoop him out of his temporary seat in Ro's arm, and tuck him neatly into his shirt pocket.
"Nice shirt," Sir WHIP said, admiring the orange color that he blended into, making him not so noticeable. Should he blink or move a little it would probably go unseen unless someone was really paying close attention. Otherwise, Jo was just a little boy with a dragon toy.
Just as he and his friends planned.
When Jo and Ro returned to the living room, Mom and Dad were waiting. The children picked their napkin-wrapped peanut butter bread up off the coffee table, and their Capris Suns, and followed their parents to the car – on top of which, BEN Owl awaited them. Dad shook his head.
"Two magical flying creatures who can zip off to any place in the world they want to go with literally no preparation except resting first, and they want to home in on our balloon ride," Dad teased, noticing a sparkly orange dragon head sticking out of Jo's shirt pocket. "Go figure. BEN Owl, just to keep the cost of this ride down to a dull roar, how about if you fly up and land on Ro's shoulder once the balloon is airborne?"
"What a marvelous idea! That will be an exciting surprise for your pilot!" BEN Owl agreed. "I shall fly along with your car to the balloon ride site, and then perch in a tree until you've taken off."
Everyone was on their way within a minute and a half, chattering about what they might see, and how the balloon worked, and whether they would have anything to do to help the pilot and crew take off.
"So the whole thing works by using fire to heat the air and make it warm inside the balloon?" Jo asked, glancing at Dad's face in the rear view mirror, and then out the window at BEN Owl flying above his side of the car.
"Yep. Hot air rises. When it's inside the balloon, it makes the balloon float up into the sky," Mom explained.
"Cool!" Jo said, not fully understanding, but knowing his mom was smart and knew a lot of the science stuff.
"Alarming! Depending on a little puff of hot air to drag you into the sky," Sir WHIP muttered from Jo's pocket as Dad pulled into the field where the hot air balloon's crew was unfurling the giant, orange balloon with purple polka dots.
"Hi! I'm Nelson, your pilot. You were running a little behind schedule for launch, so we, that is my crew, Tina, Beak, and Andrea, got the basket and burner all set up, and are unfurling the balloon now. Want to help?"
"Sure!" Ro and Jo shouted at once, thrilled to be part of the team.
"Oooh! I love the colors!" Ro said, admiring the bright purple and orange being carefully unrolled on the ground.
"Yeah! Cool!" Jo echoed his sister, smiling at their two favorite colors, together in the balloon's fabric.
"Okay," Nelson said to Ro and Jo, once the balloon was all stretched out on the ground. "You guys grab the top edge of that side of the envelope (that's what that part of the balloon is called), and lift it about shoulder high, okay?"
"Done!" Jo said as he and Ro followed directions.
"Could Mom and Dad please turn on the fans? We fill the balloon with cool air first, to get it opened up and inflated," Nelson explained.
Mom and Dad each turned on a fan, while Andrea attached the parachute valve at the top of the balloon, as it started to take its giant shape and look like a balloon instead of a huge round blanket on the field.
Once the balloon was filled with air, the pilot turned on the burner that made big flames! Slowly, the balloon began to rise up!
"We'd better hurry and get in!" Jo said, a little panicky, but Tina laughed and patted his shoulder.
"Don't worry," she said. "It's not going anywhere without you! When it's floating upright, you and your family can climb on into the basket and get started on your tour."
Tina was right. Soon the balloon hovered over top of the basket, and Nelson climbed in, then helped Ro, Jo, (and unbeknownst to Nelson, stowaway Sir WHIP), Mom, and Dad in along with him.
BEN Owl, perched in a tree across the road from the large field, watched as Tina, Beak, and Andrea secured remaining equipment onto the now balloon-less trailer and climbed into the truck. They would follow the balloon as it floated through the sky, and be there when it landed to help deflate and fold it up and take it home.
Ro, Jo, Mom, and Dad listened carefully as Nelson went over a few things about safety on board the balloon.
"Over the Rainbow Balloons," is the name of our company, and while I am your pilot today, Tina, Beak, and Andrea are also all certified balloon pilots, with lots of experience taking people up on tours.
"We go to a special class called a refresher safety seminar every year to make sure we remember everything to keep ourselves and our passengers safe when we float. We are required to drug test regularly, and always pass those tests with flying colors because the only high we care about is how far our balloons rise into the sky.
"Our balloons and equipment are inspected according to FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requirements every year and safety requirement checklists are used every single flight. We get an FAA weather briefing before every flight, and we only fly during perfect weather.
"Have you all read the safety brochures you were sent when you signed up for the flight?"
Ro began reciting the brochure, seeing it in her mind:
- Passengers may be asked by the crew or pilot for assistance so that they will feel included in the flight.
- Never let your feet be lifted off the ground while holding the balloon.
- Keep clear of the truck and trailer when equipment is being unloaded.
- Stay away from the fans and balloon tie-off lines, to avoid injury.
- NO SMOKING.
- Follow all instructions from the balloon crew.
- No leaning over or sitting on the side rail.
- Stay in the position where you are told.
- No shouting, because that can be mistaken as distress by people on the ground and they may dial 911.
- Move gently so as not to jostle the basket.
- Do not throw or drop anything from the basket.
- Be on the lookout for power lines or other obstacles – the pilot or crew will probably already have seen them, but it's always safer for everyone to be alert, especially during landing. Look for telephone poles when wires are difficult to see.
- During landing,
- make sure everything is stowed away in your pockets or camera bags – sometimes the basket will bounce or even tip and it's safer if everything is put away.
- No filming during the landing because passengers must have their hands free to hold on.
- Place your back in the direction of travel. Hold tight to the rigid upright. Keep your knees together and slightly bent to absorb the landing shock.
- Keep your hands and arms inside the basket.
- After landing do not get out of the basket until told to by the pilot because the loss of weight can allow the balloon to take off again.
- Be absolutely respectful to owners of the fields where we land. If they happen to be Amish, we will not have a champagne toasts or take pictures out of respect for their religion."
Nelson beamed in approval. "Excellent, Ro! You memorized the whole thing!"
Ro took a little bow, grateful for her magical power. She liked Nelson, who moved to begin the flight by activating the burner, making the balloon lighter and gasps came from everyone as the basket they stood in lifted off the ground.
"Here we go!" said Nelson, smiling.
Soon the huge orange and purple balloon skimmed through the sky, riding the wind, and Jo took a deep breath of fresh, morning air. "It's so quiet up here," he said softly. "I thought it would be windier, noisier."
"Oh no," Nelson said. "If it were that windy we wouldn't be able to fly. This is a perfect day to float through the sky, isn't it?"
Everyone agreed, each looking out over Media, Pennsylvania, trying to figure out where everything was.
"Look, Ro and Jo, there is your school, and over there is our house! And there is Walmart, the gas station where we get our gas." Dad said, pointing out main roads and buildings.
"So cool!" Ro said, and Jo nodded, both of their eyes following Dad's pointing finger.
"And look," Mom said, pointing as well. "There's the park we go to with Brie and Kato."
They saw it all, and pointed and laughed and had a great time.
Suddenly, with a great swoosh, a large owl swooped toward the basket of the balloon and landed on Ro's shoulder, startling the holy moly out of Nelson, until he realized that Ro was giggling and stroking the belly of the night bird.
"I take it your friend will be joining us for the flight?" Nelson asked Ro who giggled a little more, nodding.
"Well, since he can come and go under his own power, he is more than welcome to rest here on your shoulder, though I'm thinking he's already seen most of the sights we're admiring," Nelson said, reaching over to stroke BEN Owl's belly, cautiously, deeply respecting the beak and talons of the predator bird.
Jo noticed Nelson's carefulness, and reassured him. "Don't worry. BEN Owl is a member of our family and very friendly.
"That's amazing!" Nelson said, taking a moment to greet his new passenger – but only a moment, and then returned his full attention back to the propane burner. He increased the heat a little bit to raise the balloon higher into the air, and they drifted along in their warm basket for half an hour or so, the views slowly changing, but all were beautiful.
Even Sir WHIP had to admit, in Jo's ear when he bent to hear the tiny dragon in his pocket speak, that it was beautiful and peaceful up here in the balloon's basket. "Sometimes I'm concentrating on flying and steering, I don't really appreciate the scenery," he whispered.
About half an hour later Nelson tried to readjust the burner mechanism, and frowned. Nothing happened, and the balloon was beginning to sink. "Oh my goodness, I think this switch is broken," he said, and then looked around at the area.
"Are we going to crash?" Jo asked what everyone was probably thinking, his eyes wide.
"Well, no, I hope not. I can just vent the hot air out of the balloon and we will descend, but we are not in a good place to land. There are many trees here. There are some fields about ten minutes in that direction, but the wind is not cooperating…"
Just then, Sir WHIP made a command decision and came to life in Jo's pocket. He hoisted himself up and leapt into the air, swooped to the floor of the basket and made himself human-sized.
Nelson gasped, astonished at the sparkly orange dragon that stood before him, just about his height and build (without the tail of course).
"Do not be alarmed, Nelson, I mean you no harm. As a matter of fact, I think I might be able to help with this problem," Sir WHIP spoke as clearly as any human had ever spoken to him, Nelson thought, and accepted the 'hand' of the dragon for a shake. "If it's fire you need, then fire you shall have," Sir WHIP said and aimed his snout toward the opening of the balloon envelope.
Serious flames shot from Sir WHIP's nose and mouth, heating the air inside the balloon, which caused it to rise up over the trees into a gentle wind current that carried them in the direction Nelson had pointed to when talking about the fields.
Soon they hovered over a field and Nelson vented the hot air out of the balloon to help it descend to the ground.
The landing was soft, and in the matter of a few moments Beak drove up in the truck with the trailer. Andrea and Tina followed closely in Andrea's car so that there would be plenty of seats for their passengers.
As soon as the balloon lines were securely fastened to the truck, Nelson helped Ro, Jo, Mom, and Dad out of the balloon's basket.
Beak, Tina, and Andrea's jaws dropped at the sight of Sir WHIP, especially when he stretched out his wings to their full, sparkly orange span, and yawned after his exertion, ready for a nap in Jo's pocket during the ride back to the balloon's launch site.
"Don't be alarmed," Nelson said to his friends. "This is Sir WHIP, a friend of Ro and Jo's family, and he really saved the day today!"
When Tina, Beak and Andrea heard of Sir WHIP's heroic rescue of Nelson and the passengers, they hugged him and thanked them heartily.
When the thank-yous were said to Sir WHIP, everyone pitched in to fold and pack the balloon back into its bag and load it onto the trailer to be bungeed in place. While waiting for his friends, and helping when he could, Sir WHIP burped, and a puff of smoke naturally came out of his nose and mouth.
"Excuse me," he said, remembering his manners.
"I'm glad you didn't burp on board the balloon, Sir WHIP," Jo teased. "There's no smoking aboard!"
Nelson and his crew laughed, and then, the work finished, everyone piled into the vehicles and headed back to Mom and Dad's car.
Later in the fort, Ro wrote down every detail about the hot air balloon adventure in the Team RoJo Family Journal as Sir WHIP napped after his big, heroic day.