By Alan FarnhamThe number of gas balloonists is small, but the appeal of flying with a bubble of hydrogen or helium goes beyond the exclusivity of the sport. Pilots must be able to spend $2,500 to fill up a balloon with hydrogen, and helium will cost $12,000. Gas balloons do not make as much noise as hot air balloons. In addition to the silence, gas balloonists say they are able to stay aloft for days with no need for fuel, compared with hot air balloons, which can only stay in the air for an hour or two and pilots must stay close to home. Gas balloonists even say catching the right current will allow them to fly coast-to-coast or cross the ocean. Richard Randolph Woods, 62, a real estate investor from St. Louis, calls the uncertainty when gas ballooning the "wild card" aspect of the sport. "Much more daring is involved," he says. There are about 30 gas balloons in the United States and about 100 licensed pilots, according to balloon maker Albert Padelt.
October 14, 2008