This time we were smarter; we got a room right across the road from the Red Hen Cantina so we could sleep in until 4:45 am. We were the last of the four balloons to lift off and we floated calmly up, up and away until we had a bird's eye view of Yountville. The winds blessed us with a most scenic ride. Normally they caress the balloons south, toward Napa. But today they worked in our favor and we headed north to float at 1500 feet over the vineyards and wineries. What struck me the most was how quiet it was, except for the occasional blast from the propane burner. It's easy to see how one could get addicted to ballooning. As we descended we hovered above a Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon vineyard until one of the chase crew could grab the dangling line and pull us to the dirt service road. After a smooth landing we helped make sure the balloon didn't fall into the metal trellises of the newly planted vineyard on the other side. Back at the cantina we had a champagne breakfast. Yum, yum.
Man's delight with hot air balloons first appears in Chinese history in 220 - 280 AD, when unmanned ones were used as airborne lanterns for military signaling. The first unmanned documented balloon flight in Europe was in 1709. After experimenting with unmanned balloons and flights with animals, the first tethered balloon flight with humans on board took place on October 19, 1783. Modern hot air balloons, with their onboard heat surce, were pioneered in the 1950s which resulted in the first successful flight on October 22, 1960. Today, hot air balloons are used primarily for recreation, and there are some 7,500 hot air balloons operating in the United States.