The view is so much better from a balloon, and the take-off and landing is a one-of-a-kind experience.
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – There’s only one company in the world that launches and lands hot air balloons from a boat, and that company is Lake Tahoe Balloons. The one-of-a-kind boat is known as the Tahoe Flyer and it is the smallest aircraft carrier in the world.
The Flyer is only 120 feet long and 28 feet wide. It’s a tricky job to inflate and fly a balloon from a boat, but pilot Sheldon Grauberger says that when you fly from water, you avoid a number of hot air balloon challenges found on land.
“Negative landowners and power lines. When you take off from the water, you avoid both of those things,” Grauberger said.
Captain Greg Collard explains that when the ship was built in 1992, the design needed approval from two different government agencies.
“It’s being inspected by both the Coast Guard and the FAA because we have a plane on board,” Collard said.
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It takes a lot of heat to inflate the 110-foot-tall balloon and lift the 10-12 passengers. According to Grauberger, one of the balloon’s burners could heat a 1,500-square-foot house from 40 degrees to 80 degrees in three seconds, and that heat will take passengers high enough to see a wide swath of eastern California. .
“You can see all the way to Yosemite and then to Mount Lassen on a clear day,” Grauberger said.
Wind directions change at different heights, so to steer, Grauberger raises or lowers the balloon by adding heat or letting it exit through a hole in the top of the balloon. Throughout the 50-minute journey, passengers hop on and off several times.
You get an unforgettable view of the lake at 5,000 feet. Then on the way down you experience what is called a “splash and dash” where the bottom of the basket hits the water.
“I’ve wet someone’s ankles, but never beyond the ankles,” Grauberger laughed.
Once the basket drips dry, it’s time to land and Captain Collard and Pilot Gruberger must work together to make it happen.
“It’s actually the boat catching the ball because the crew is pulling them down,” Collard said.
Lake Tahoe Balloons claims to make the softest balloon landings in the industry because the basket does not bounce or crash into an open field.
After landing on the boat, the real work begins. Putting the ball away is a bit of organized chaos.
It takes the whole crew to deflate the balloon and prevent it from rolling in the water. The Tahoe Flyer is equipped with a series of extensions with threads that help guide the balloon fabric to the center.
Once the balloon is stowed, it’s time to pop a few bottles of champagne. The whole boat gets a celebratory drink and a scenic boat ride back to the marina.
Flights with Lake Tahoe Balloons operate from mid-May through October. Advance reservations are required.
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