Newlyweds Take Balloon Ride
A huge, red hot air balloon lifted softly into a cloudless blue sky over Carthage last week.
In its wicker basket hanging below, Mike Shouse twiddled controls to send periodic bursts of fire to heat the gas bag's interior and make all rise. His passengers watched the earth fall slowly away beneath their feet.
The balloon trip was a surprise wedding gift for a newly married Ashley Sheppard, cook and partner in the airfield's Pik-n-Pig barbecue restaurant. Sheppard and his fiance Tiffani Thomp-son were married two weeks ago. On the ground, she and her mother watched the young husband disappear in the general direction of Robbins.
Roland Gilliam's airfield has every right to consider itself accustomed to strange sights. Father Goose and his flight of Canada geese once made an intermediate Fall stop on their way south. It has been "Gilliam-McConnell International Airfield" ever since.
Its runway has welcomed nearly every kind and type of small to medium flying machine, from restored relics to air-worthy replicas of World War I combat aircraft to home-built planes as sleek as anything with wings.
Field, driving range, runways and restaurant are surrounded by a growing neighborhood of houses with hangars -- homes for private pilots and their families.
The balloonist is Mike Shouse. He pulled up mid-afternoon and, with the help of a volunteer crew, rolled out the long red ribbon of his collapse balloon along the town edge of the runway.
A pair of gasoline-powered fans growled into action and one crewman tugged away in the opposite direction at a tether to keep the bag stretched out. Another couple of helpers held up and open the mouth, as the fans pushed air inside to inflate the thing.
As it grew, Shouse and an assistant walked into the Chines Red expanding hallway to Velcro a circular patch plug at far top end. Pulling a releasing cable will empty the balloon quickly after it lands.
Just like a birthday balloon -- only much, much larger -- the big red thing swelled and blossomed to the familiar Wizard of Oz shape. Unlike the movie's wizard, Shouse does know how it works.
Once filled, he fired up his propane fueled heaters, blasting the inside air to higher temperature as its pressure and volume obeyed Boyle's famous law. The outside air began to squeeze this cloth-clad bubble upwards as cooler and heavier air fell under it.
"Lean on the edge, there, will you?" Shouse said calmly. "And turn on the roof lights so I can find you."
Sheppard and a couple of curious watchers obeyed, putting their weight on the basket's leather clad rim to help gravity prevent premature ascent. A driver in Shouse's "balloon chase vehicle" (bumper sticker on the back door) switched a rack of yellow lights into life. Shouse would direct them from above as he figured out his landing spot.
"We'll come down about 10 miles from here," he said. "North-northwest, I think."
The airfield's orange windsock, barely filling, was pointing toward High Falls. Balloons, generally speaking, follow the wind. Chase vehicles follow balloons. Everybody has a good time.
"Where's my passenger?" Shouse asked, and one of the helpers climbed aboard. Then Shouse looked at Sheppard.
"You want to go?" Shouse asked the bridegroom. He did not have to ask twice. Sheppard clambered over the basket rim to join the party. A fierce blast of fire gave hoist to all.
Up, up and away they went. As they passed beyond the treetops, one of the airplanes raced down and took off after them. At last sight, the plane was seen circling the balloon at a safe distance as that great inverted red teardrop was borne away by the breeze, gone with the wind.
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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