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Cover Story November 26th, 2009

  Untitled Document


Photos: Top, a balloon rally with, sometimes, hundreds of balloons lifting off. Bottom, a balloon, similar to ours, flying with us last Friday morning, top left, our pilot, Dominic Chemello, bottom left, a winery in the early morning.

by lyle e davis

Well, we gone and want and done it!

Friday morning. Clear blue skies, cool, but not cold . . . beautiful day.

And we went hot-air ballooning!

By now, you have come to learn that one of my favorite playgrounds is Temecula. That city has a little bit of everything!

Joining us last Friday morning was a middle age couple, from Palm Beach, Florida, celebrating their honeymoon, and a young couple, celebrating the young man’s 21st birthday.

In due course the balloon was inflated, we hopped into the basket (well, hopped might be stretching it a bit. Old folks seldom hop into anything other than bed . . .). A few blasts of the propane burner and we began to lift off.

We flew with D&D Ballooning and we very highly recommend them. Dominic is a first class pilot, an interesting character, and a great story teller and host.

This, a morning flight, was our second adventure with hot-air ballooning. We had first flown about eight years ago, out of the Del Mar area, which was an evening sunset flight. If you want to fly mornings, you have to head to Temecula, that’s the only time they fly, because of wind conditions. If you want to fly in the early evening/sunset you have to work with the San Diego hot-air balloon companies, for exactly the same reason. Morning winds tend to head out to sea . . . and that’s not a real neat place to land a balloon. In the afternoon, winds are more manageable for both take-offs and landing in a desirable location.

photoThe afternoon winds in Temecula are just too strong for safe ballooning . . . so the activity there is restricted to mornings. Even then, you have to trust your pilot. If s/he says it’s too windy to fly, believe him. He’s looking after your safety as well as his.

When you hit it just right, which is most of the time, it is an indescribably beautiful and enjoyable experience. The photos within this story may whet your appetite for going ballooning but as pretty as they are, they do not do justice to the scenery you’ll see, no matter where you fly, San Diego or Temecula.

We found that our pilot was almost as enjoyable as the flight itself. Dominic Chemello is not only a superbly qualified pilot of balloons, but fixed wing and rotary (helicopter) as well. He has over 10,000 hours as pilot in command of a variety of aircraft, military and civilian. Additionally, he is one fine story teller. Being a story teller, I find myself intrigued by another’s ability to spin a yarn and keep you focused on his story.

Dominic does that, and more. (Ask him to tell you the story about the orange and black Texas armadillos).

Hot air balloning is something anyone over 6 years of age and in good health can do and participate. The oldest passenger Dominic ever had was a 98 year old man. He’s had a number of passengers in their 90’s.

The balloon ride is a unique way to get married. And, it just happens that Dominic is also an ordained minister. He has performed a number of marriages while airborne. No honeymoons yet, but close to it. Yes, believe it or not, Dominic also offers “The Mile High Club” flights.
His website says: MILE HIGH: For those who belong to or have ever wanted to join the "Mile High" club, we offer a flight in a private balloon at a mile high (5280 feet). This is the ultimate ecstasy. We offer comfort and discretion. This flight is honored with "mile high" pins for him and her. Call today to reserve because this flight take considerable scheduling considerations.

photoWell, you just know that I had to ask a few questions about this offering. Naturally, Dominic assured us, the pilot has to be present. And, yes, he claims, there is privacy. A domelike structure is provided so the couple has privacy. They also have an am/fm/cd sound system so they have, presumably, romantic music.

I consulted with our Chief Extra Curricular Activities Correspondent, Evelyn Madison. She said . . . “With a pilot present? He might not be able to see anything but he certainly could hear comments made and other sounds from the domelike structure.”

(I think that translates to: “No, thank you.”)

Dominic claims to have about one of these a month.

He also has marriage proposal flights, wedding flights, birthday and anniversary flights, skydiving flights, long distance flights, night into morning flights, corporate reward flights . . . many, many options. Some flights require more preparation than others so be sure and call well ahead of the date you have in mind. Also, be aware that weather ALWAYS controls whether a flight departs on schedule or not.
How long will it take?- Allow 3 hours for your adventure. This will include pre-launch meeting and balloon preparation (think photo ops here), in air time, landing, post flight celebration picnic, presentation of commemorative flight diplomas and return to your car.

Our flight, originally scheduled for one hour, ran one hour and 20 minutes as Dominic had to locate and utilize winds that would give us the safest, most appropriate landing area. He was successful. When we landed we had a tiny bump and we were on the ground. Fantastic!

The chase vehicle met us, deflated and stowed the balloon, and drove us back to the beautiful picnic area for a robust morning breakfast, complete with the traditional champagn.

Pechanga Casino’s Balloon just lifting off while another inflates

This was the good life!

The ride ends just as the wineries open their tasting rooms and tours. After the wineries, you can visit old town Temecula where the Butterfield Stage once stopped, shop in the antique stores, and maybe see a gun fight in the streets, and then there is gambling at Pechanga Casino. It is after all, a fine day in the beautiful valley of Temecula.

We’ll take a look at the sights and things to do in Temecula, but first, answers for a few questions we reckon you’d like answered:

When will we fly? Temecula flights are sunrise only and meet approximately at sunrise, (clock time varies seasonally). Del Mar rides are sunset rides only and meet about 2 1/2 hours before sunset. Check sunrisesunset.com for the approximate times on the date you plan to fly. When you book a tour, your exact meeting time will be given.

How many people fit into a basket? - Group rides will have eight or more riders depending on the days bookings. Private ride balloons are sized to the party and are usually considered quite comfortable by the guests. We had eight souls on board our balloon, including the pilot and one ground crew member who is training for his pilot’s license.

Attire?- Passengers should wear comfortable clothing such as denims and boots or sneakers. Open toed sandals and high heels should not be worn. Shorts are not recommended, and dresses may make it difficult for ladies to climb into and out of the basket. In colder months, layered clothing is advisable. Don't forget to bring your camera.

How high will we go? Most passenger flights are conducted between 1000 feet and 2,500 feet off the ground except on launch and landing where it might skim across the trees and fields before coming to its final landing.

Above, one of hundreds of vineyards in the Temecula Valley

How big is the balloon? A four passenger balloon is about as tall as an 8 story building, sixty feet in diameter and contains 105,000 cubic feet of hot air.

Are age and health a consideration?-Yes, flights are not recommended for children under 6 years of age and adults in poor health. Passengers must stand during the entire flight and need some agility to get in and out of the balloon basket. A bumpy landing is possible. Safety is the number one priority.

How do you steer the balloon?- A balloon cannot be steered left or right. Winds blow in different directions at different altitudes, so a pilot can steer the balloon by changing altitude to find a wind that will take it in the desired direction.

How safe is it?- As in all sporting activities, ballooning carries an acceptable degree of risk for bodily injury. However, because it is a form of aviation where fair weather rules always prevail, ballooning enjoys an overall good safety record. Consider this: all balloon pilots flying passengers for hire are certified and regularly checked by an FAA mandated process. There are less than 7,000 balloon pilots in the USA, most of the ones that fly in the same area know and trust each other.

Shortly after lift-off . . . the
adventure begins!

Can I Get A Gift Ticket? Yes, of course, it's a great way to help someone celebrate a birthday or anniversary and it gives them the opportunity to choose when they wish to fly. Gift tickets expire 1 year from purchase date.
Balloon Rides Pricing, Amenities:
(Some packages feature all of the following as standard fare; if they are not included, ask. Your operator will likely be happy to make the necessary arrangements for whatever you wish. They are generally quite flexible.)
• 60 minute flight (may vary slightly with weather)
• Chilled beverages served in flight
•Post flight continental breakfast (morning) or hors d' oeuvres (evening)
• Transportation to launch site and back from landing site
• Free digital photo by email
• Flight diploma suitable for display
• Aeronaut post flight celebration
• Great looking late model professionally maintained balloons you will feel safe in
• Highly experienced pilots with years of local flying experience and perfect safety record
• Professional ground crews for all balloons, trained to make your flight pleasant.

Prices vary with each operator, though they try to be competitive. Prices will also vary with the season. Some special rates may or may not be available during the holidays. Always check with your operator first. We have found that the Del Mar/San Diego Balloon flights tend to be a bit more expensive than Temecula’s:

PTemecula Sunrise Group Balloon Ride $150 ea
Del Mar Sunset Group Balloon Ride $175 ea

Private Temecula Sunrise Balloon ride for two, $650
Private Del Mar Sunset Balloon ride for two, $800

Ranges of Other Costs
Private Balloon ride for 4, $1025
Private Balloon ride for 6, $1250

(Group means your party will be placed into a balloon with other bookings for the day.

Things to Do and See in the Temecula Valley

If you fly with D&D Ballooning, you’ll be at the Wilson Creek Winery. It’s a lovely facility at the east end of Rancho California Road. As you know from previous stories we’ve filed on Temecula, one of our treasured visits to this city has to include the Temecula Creek Inn. We’ve stayed there . . . we’ve dined there, and we’ve always been impressed with the quality of the facility as well as its service.

The Temecula Creek Inn has two new features that intrigue us. One, their outstanding and award winning Temet Grill has created “The Art of Brunch,” devised by General Manager, Jason Curl, as a way to incorporate local visual art at the resort.

Each month the restaurant features live entertainment paired to fine works of art in conjunction with the restaurant’s regular Sunday Brunch from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The artists showcase their work, but also showcase their creative talent during the brunch as well, either in the main dining room or in the brunch room.

Brunch Price is Adults - $34.95 – Inclusive of Champagne and Bloody Mary’s. Non Inclusive of Tax and Gratuity. Child – 5-12years old - $14.95, 5 and under – No Charge.

Another neat idea for you neophyte golfers . . . Temecula Creek Inn just happens to have a superb 27 hole golf course. Now they have a special program to learn golf. Couples, families, and groups with no prior experience can team up this fall and learn with JC Golf’s new “Intro2Golf” program.

The program kicks off with a Free Clinic Day with a choice of three times 9:00-10:00 a.m., 12:00-1:00 p.m. or 3:00-4:00 p.m. JC Golf (the parent company that owns Temecula Creek Inn) makes it easy and flexible for golfers with no experience to access scheduled times for 2009 and 2010 by visiting www.jcgolf.com.

Offered to the beginners through December 2009 and in 2010, the program provides individuals with five one hour clinics on scheduled dates, for only $50 per person, which includes three buckets of range balls for practice, golf clubs, golf balls and golf tees. Novice golfers who play two additional rounds of golf after 4:00 p.m. until dark obtain each round for $10 each. Scheduled times and program are subject to change. Golfers must be seven years or older to participate and golf apparel is not required.

In addition to the Temecula Creek Inn course, the new golf program is available at JC Golf’s Arrowood Golf Course in Oceanside, Reidy Creek Golf Course in Escondido, and Twin Oaks Golf Course in San Marcos.

Another place we absolutely love and can never wait to dine there again is The Edge Restaurant, located at the north end of Old Town. Ambience, great food, and superb service. Those are the combinations we love!

Moments after our lift-off. You can see vapor from the propane burners near the center, just above the belt; this propane burner is used often during the flight.

If you have young ones around, your kids or your grandkids, you may want to get together and Welcome Santa during his grand entrance down Old Town Front Street as he arrives in a horse drawn carriage. The festive evening begins at 6 p.m. this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and includes Dickens carolers, music by the John Hess Quartet and Dynamite Dave. Join in the celebration! All children receive free Old Town Temecula reindeer antlers while supplies last. And, that’s just the beginning! Old Town Temecula has a gift for you this holiday season as well. The entire town will be aglow with more than 30,000 twinkling holiday lights installed by Southern California Christmas Lighting. To make night time viewing better, stores will be open later on Friday and Saturday evenings. Weekends are packed with special holiday entertainment and the opportunity to win giant holiday gift baskets.

That Jolly Ol’ Elf Santa Claus will listen to children’s wishes every weekend from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at his workshop on the corner of Front and Main Streets. He’ll also make another evening appearance Friday, December 11, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday, December 18 from 4 to 8 p.m. Temecula area Boy Scouts will take souvenir pictures for a $5 donation. Don’t expect them in uniform. They will be dressed as living toy soldiers.

Old Town Temecula is the hub for cultural arts in the Temecula Valley, with the Old Town Temecula Community Theater, The Merc at the OTTCT, Pennypickle’s Workshop/Temecula Children’s Museum and the Temecula Valley Museum. For holiday shows at the theater visit www.temeculatheater.org.

For more information and a complete schedule of Old Town Temecula events contact the City of Temecula, (951) 693-3952 or visit www.temeculacalifornia.com or www.cityoftemecula.org. For children’s activities visit www.pennypickles.org.

As we said earlier, Temecula is one of our favorite playgrounds. I have a hunch we’ll probably be heading back up there more and more frequently. I also have a hunch we’re just likely to go flying in a hot air balloon again.

I know, I know . . . you’re dying to ask me. “Lyle, how did this all come about? Who was the first silly person to think they could fly around the sky with a balloon?”

Montgolfier’s Balloon

Well, I’ll tell ya . . . it was all those crazy French folks idea.

Some French family by the name of Montgolfiers, a rather large family in fact, had two of their sixteen children who really stood out: Joseph, born in August 1740 and Etienne, five years his junior. Neither showed any great enthusiasm for the family paper-manufacturing trade, with their father, Pierre, still firmly holding the reins of the factory at Viladon-les-Annonay, south of Lyon. The aging paterfamilias was probably wondering if his two boys had their heads in the clouds.

Well, as a matter of fact, they did. Joseph certainly didn't lack imagination. Observing the sky, he concluded that he could very easily make a cloud himself: so he got some paper from the factory, made an envelope, filled it with steam - and saw his idea collapse in a mass of sodden paper. Well, Etienne had a right good laugh at that. But, seeing as how he was more a scientist than Joseph was, he came up with the idea of making a bag float in the air with gas obtained from sulfuric acid and iron filings. Another failure. But then in November 1782, working indoors, Joseph managed to get a taffeta envelope filled with hot air to rise to the ceiling. He summoned his brother: "Get in a stock of taffeta and rope and you'll see one of the most astonishing sights in the whole world!" One presumes he said this in French. It wasn’t that English had not yet been invented . . .it was just that these fellas, smarty pants guys that they were, had not taken the time to learn our beloved language. Their loss. They did decide, however, it was time for serious scientific experiments to begin.

To the amazement of a group of spectators, the Montgolfier brothers soon managed to send a sort of giant paper bag some thirty meters (100 ft) up in the air, using gas obtained by burning a mixture of wet straw and chopped wool. Joseph and Etienne decided to push things further, via a "machine" for taking people into the air - an "aerostat" they called it. "Seraphina." This strange contrivance, was to be a 12-meter (40 ft) envelope made of wrapping fabric lined with paper, with its multiple sections held together by some 2000 buttons. A totally hare-brained idea, according to their critics. After the preliminary tryouts, the first public experiment was scheduled for Annonay on 4 June 1783, just happening to coincide with a meeting of the area's most influential people.

The town square in Annonay was packed, with people struggling to get a look at the balloon spread out on the ground and tied to wooden posts. The fire was lit and the envelope began to fill; some of the spectators became uneasy, but that was because of the horrible smell given off by the burning mixture of straw and wool. Under a menacing sky and with the wind beginning to rise, it took several men to hold the enormous balloon down until the order was given to let go. Seraphina took off and a few minutes later was no more than a dot in the sky, some 2000 meters (6500 ft) up.


Early morning, above a winery

The "aerostat" began to drift and gradually descend, since the hot air was escaping little by little. Rushing after it the local people found it in the middle of a vineyard two kilometers (a mile and a quarter) from where it had taken off. News of the experiment traveled fast. Soon all Paris was talking balloons and the Montgolfiers even had a competitor in the capital.

On August 26 the physicist Jacques Charles sent up a hydrogen balloon from the Champ de Mars: it came to earth in a village 16 kilometers (10 miles) away, where terrified locals attacked this monster from the skies, with pitchforks.

However the first "accompanied" flight - with a sheep, a rooster and a duck on board - was organized by the Montgolfiers on September 19, from the gardens of the Palace of Versailles. And finally, on November 21, Pilâtre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes climbed into a Montgolfier balloon for the first manned flight. Even Benjamin Franklin was lost for words. The hot-air balloon had been born and on January 19, 1784, the people of Lyon had their chance to admire the invention that began the conquest of space. Charles' balloon was a much more practical device than the hot air balloon in the 18th century, and differed very little from the gas balloons flying today. For almost two centuries hot-air balloons were virtually ignored until the late 1950's when a balloon was built as part of a United States Government research program. This balloon was of man-made fibers and was filled with air heated by a propane flame. The modern hot-air balloon was born.

And that is how it all came to be. Today, hot-air ballooning is a nationwide sport/recreation. Because of favorable weather conditions, we probably have more here on the west coast than elsewhere in the continental United States.

Sometimes, even Frenchmen come over here to fly balloons. Most of them, we’re happy to say, have now learned to speak English. There have been rumors that the San Diego hot-air ballooning business may shut down within a couple of years due to the heavy development and resulting lack of land to launch and land.

“Not true,” said Connie von Zweck, co-owner of SkySurfer Balloon Company, in Del Mar. “Ballooning is definitely impacted by development, but we’ll be around for many years to come. We need wide open spaces because our flying is all done by winds. We are always negotiating for new launch and landing sites. We change our locations as needed. We can’t come north to Rancho Bernardo or Escondido because that’s not our air space. We are heavily regulated as to where we can fly and have our own restricted air space. We cannot enter a commercial or military airport’s airspace. If the winds blow us that way, we have to contact their tower and ask permission to enter their airspace. We then land as soon as possible. Balloons do, by law, have a right of way so control towers work with us. Our hot-air ballooning air space runs generally from the coast easterly to west of I-15; we are also bordered on the north by Encinitas and to the south by just north of Mira Mesa. We have maps that show our pilots restricted air space and elevation that we must observe.”

photoSkysurfer Balloon Company can be reached at 858.481.6800.

As is probably clear, we had a great time flying with D&D Ballooning. We got to know the owner and Captain, Dominic Chemello. Besides being an amazing character, Dominic is a first class pilot in all respects. Former military pilot, he is qualified in a large variety of aircraft, both fixed wing, rotary, and balloons. He is a qualified flight instructor, was an FAA Aviation Safety Inspector for years . . . . and he is a first class story teller. Guaranteed . . . you'll have fun in the air and on the ground with Dominic. He's a fun guy and a fantastic host!

As you will see elsewhere in this edition, D&D Ballooning has a special holiday gift certificate offer. It’s $150 per person, buy two, get one free. Not a bad deal at all.


D&D Ballooning
Dominic Chemello
Phone: 1.800.510.9000
Cell: 1.951.314.7896
website: www.hotairadventures.com





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