11
April
2017
|
09:12 PM
America/Chicago

CAP Cadet Soars in Her Beautiful Balloon

Up, Up and Away!

By Kristi Carr
Contributing Writer

Sunrise, when the winds are best, is her favorite time to fly, with the colors of the early morning sky over Albuquerque, New Mexico, mirroring the rainbow of hues splashed across the fabric of her hot air balloon.

For Civil Air Patrol Cadet Master Sgt. Savannah Bradley, ballooning is her passion.

Born into ballooning

At 17, Bradley tied as the youngest pilot in the history of the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta when she was accepted to fly in “Desert Kaleidoscope” in early October.

Bradley was born into ballooning. She describes herself as a third-generation balloonist on her mother’s side and fourth-generation on her father’s.

It all started with her great-grandfather, Jim Dutrow. After accepting an offer for a balloon ride, he arrived home to announce to his wife, “I am buying a balloon for our real estate company.” Later, Bradley’s father got into ballooning through his grandparents, and it was ballooning that introduced her parents to one another when her father taught her mother’s father how to fly a balloon.

The Bradley family owns several balloons, which they store in a garage and two storage facilities. Ballooning is not a cheap sport, Bradley allowed, because of the need to buy propane to refill the tanks after every flight.

Adding CAP to her aviation resume

While Civil Air Patrol offers a ballooning special summer activity, Bradley was into the activity long before she was into CAP. When she joined the 811th LBJ Middle School Cadet Squadron in Albuquerque in June, CAP leaders actually had been recruiting her for more than a year, she recalled. When her plans after high school graduation started to gel, she saw how useful CAP could be in furthering those goals.

“I met a really cool cadet, CAP Cadet 1st Lt. Raily Blankly, who is a glider and hot air balloon pilot,” Bradley said. “I found out that she got into the Air Force Academy with CAP’s help, and that, ultimately, is what got me into CAP.

“My favorite thing about the CAP program is that it gets young people involved in aviation. I think it is extremely important to keep our sport of ballooning young, so I find it very special that there is an organization that helps get young people interested in aviation.“Many of those in my squadron are interested in ballooning.Our squadron has produced five balloon pilots through our balloon program, and at least four other cadets are currently working toward or looking at getting a lighter than air free balloon rating,” she said.

In addition to ballooning, Bradley would like to add ratings in gliders and powered aircraft.

Mastering balloon flight

Bradley didn’t initially intend to join in the family pastime. Her interest was piqued, though, when her father completed a trans-Pacific flight in January 2015.

“I became more interested in aviation, and that same year I started getting interested in physics. I decided I wanted to become an aeronautical engineer and thought it would be amazing to go to the Air Force Academy. This became my dream.”

She didn’t like having her father as her teacher, though. So she found another flight instructor.

Bradley likes the challenge of finding different winds at different elevations to control her balloon.“In a balloon the only control is vertical, up or down,” she said. “I can go up by adding more heat with the propane burner, and I can go down by either letting the balloon cool off or by venting hot air through a parachute in the top of the balloon.”

The most important traits for a balloon pilot, she said, are “the right mindset and good decision-making skills. If you are too full of yourself, then you probably aren’t making correct judgments about your limits.

Adding CAP to her aviation resume

While Civil Air Patrol offers a ballooning special summer activity, Bradley was into the activity long before she was into CAP. When she joined the 811th LBJ Middle School Cadet Squadron in Albuquerque in June, CAP leaders actually had been recruiting her for more than a year, she recalled. When her plans after high school graduation started to gel, she saw how useful CAP could be in furthering those goals.

“I met a really cool cadet, CAP Cadet 1st Lt. Raily Blankly, who is a glider and hot air balloon pilot,” Bradley said. “I found out that she got into the Air Force Academy with CAP’s help, and that, ultimately, is what got me into CAP.

“My favorite thing about the CAP program is that it gets young people involved in aviation. I think it is extremely important to keep our sport of ballooning young, so I find it very special that there is an organization that helps get young people interested in aviation.“Many of those in my squadron are interested in ballooning.Our squadron has produced five balloon pilots through our balloon program, and at least four other cadets are currently working toward or looking at getting a lighter than air free balloon rating,” she said.

In addition to ballooning, Bradley would like to add ratings in gliders and powered aircraft.

This is heaven!

The balloon Bradley flew in the Balloon Fiesta is called “Seventh Heaven.” The name harks back to a family tradition of using “heaven” in the name, begun when her father called his first balloon “Stairway to Heaven” after the Led Zeppelin song.

Her balloon measures 69,000 cubic feet – which “basically means that 69,000 basketballs can fit inside,” she said.

“The passenger capacity is one plus the pilot in the warmer months or two plus the pilot in colder months. Every day of the Fiesta, I had a co-pilot, whose job was to watch for power lines and help me keep on track,” Bradley said.

 

She was one of only 550 primary pilots chosen from thousands of online applicants for the Balloon Fiesta, the largest such event in the world. Participating balloonists launch from a 78-acre field in a 365-acre park, with numerous launches scheduled over more than a week.

One of the reasons for the Fiesta’s success is the “Albuquerque box,” a set of predictable wind patterns than can be exploited to navigate the balloons.“This year I only participated in the Mass Ascension,” Bradley said, adding, “I would like to fly in the Balloon Fiesta every possible year I can.”