Syracuse • The rain paused just long enough on Thursday morning to allow nearly a thousand excited students at Bluff Ridge Elementary to watch a seven-story hot air balloon spring up from the grass behind their school.
In light of the upcoming Antelope Island Stampede Festival, the students were treated to a hot air balloon demonstration in which the pilot explained the dynamics and history of balloon flying. They squealed when the balloon's burners sent off searing flames, and they laughed as their principal and teachers were taken up on short tethered flights.
"You have no feeling of gravity. You are lighter than air," said Principal Traci Robbins immediately after her flight. "I loved it. It was awesome, such a great feeling."
Robbins wasn't the only one anxious to get off the ground.
"My teachers, they absolutely went crazy volunteering to go up in it," she said. "I almost felt like I had to put their name badges in a bucket and pick."
The teachers went up in pairs as the students cheered them on from below.
"It's loud, and it's hot. It's awesome," said one of the first teachers to fly, Kathy Sorte.
She said her sixth-grade students insisted that she go up in the balloon.
"They wanted to know who their sub would be for the rest of the day because they didn't think I was coming back," she said with a laugh.
But the school didn't hold the event just so the teachers and students could have a good time: At the core of the expedition was a science lesson.
Sixth-grade science includes lessons on rockets and hot air balloons, said Sorte. Exploring aerodynamics outside of the classroom provided students with a new perspective, she said.
"To actually see it in person instead of online or in a book [is] really cool," said Sorte.
The balloon's pilot, Dan Montgomery, talked to the students about weather patterns, which built on curriculum related to air and the environment that students previously studied.
"Air does have weight," Montgomery told students, even though, he noted, "you don't think that it does." He explained that heating the air is what generates the lift. Hot air is lighter than cool air as it has less mass per unit of volume.
"It takes 1,000 cubic feet of air heated 100 degrees above ambient air temperature to generate 19.1 pounds of lift," he said. That's why the balloons are so massive, he explained to the students they have to hold a lot of hot air in order to lift a lot of weight.
Most who attended the balloon launch were swept up in the excitement of the event.
"Is that not the coolest thing?" Robbins exclaimed as the balloon went up and she whistled and wooh-ed, "Oh I just love it."
Sixth-graders Olivia Buehner and Erin Mower confirmed the balloon's coolness, and said they learned more about how the balloon works by seeing it in real life than they would have in a classroom.
The pilot invited the students and everyone else to join him in enjoying his passion for flight this weekend at the festival.
"Remember when you're a little kid and you lay on your back and you look up at the clouds and wonder what it would be like to be there?" Montgomery said, "Well that's what it's like flying a balloon. You really are lighter than air and you really are floating like a cloud."
Up, up and away
P The Antelope Island Stampede Festival
What • Hot air balloon, kite-flying and biking events, along with music and activities for kids
When • Friday through Sunday
Where • Antelope Island
More • antelopeislandstampede.com