A SIDE TRIP FROM
Yesterland
Two Aérophile Balloons
Characters-In-Flight at Walt Disney World

Great Park Balloon at Orange County Great Park

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Orange County, Florida (left). Orange County, California (right).

Up, up, and away, in my beautiful balloon!

Well, not really “away.” The balloons are tethered to the ground. You’re not going to float away. But you are going up, up. The helium in the balloon is lighter than air, so it lifts you 400 feet or so. After some time for you to enjoy the view, a winch gently pulls the balloon back to the loading platform.

Unless it’s too windy up there—then the balloon stays on the ground.

Oh, and even though you’re on the Yesterland website, this article is not about defunct attractions.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, June 29, 2010

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

PanoraMagique balloon at Disneyland Paris Resort

Did you now that PanoraMagique at the Disneyland Paris Resort is the world’s largest gas-filled tethered balloon?

Did you know that Characters-In-Flight at Walt Disney World is the world’s largest gas-filled tethered balloon?

Did you know that the Great Park Balloon in Irvine, 15 miles southeast of Disneyland, is the world’s largest gas-filled tethered balloon?

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

The prices have gone up since this 2009 photo.

Wait a minute! How they all make that claim?

It turns out that 50 Aérophile Aero30NG tethered balloons now operate worldwide, built since 1994 by Aérophile S.A. of Paris, France and their partner Ballonbau Wörner GmbH of Augsburg, Germany. All Aero30NG balloons share the same impressive statistics: a total height of 105 feet, a helium-filled envelope with a diameter of 72 feet, a lightweight passenger gondola made of composites and aluminum, and a capacity of up to 30 passengers.

Perhaps it would be more accurate if they each claimed, “There’s no larger gas-filled tethered balloon anywhere else!” But that doesn’t sound as good.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

When the balloon is not operating, it’s pulled down.

In addition to the balloons at Walt Disney Word and Irvine, two other Aero30NG balloons operate in the United States. At the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Balloon Safari gives guests an eagle’s eye view of the expansive animal habitats. At Conner Prairie Interactive History Park near Indianapolis, the 1859 Balloon Voyage educates guests about Indiana’s aviation history.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Characters-In-Flight takes flight.

The 50th Aero30NG balloon began operation earlier this year at an eco resort on Hon Tam Island, Vietnam.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

As the wind speed increases, the passenger capacity decreases.

You’ll notice that nobody today claims to have the largest tethered balloon of all time. That honor belongs to the tethered balloon at the 1867 Paris Exposition. With an hydrogen-filled envelope 118 feet in diameter, it could carry 50 passengers at a time.

the view from Characters-In-Flight at Walt Disney World

Characters-In-Flight provides a great view of Downtown Disney.

Aérophile has an American competitor. Boston-based Aeroballoon USA makes a tethered balloon called the AB30 that matches the 30-passenger capacity of the Aero30NG, but claims an envelope diameter of 73 feet—one foot more than the Aero30NG.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

To ride the Great Park Balloon, begin at the Visitor’s Center.

The big balloons often have big ticket prices. Characters-In-Flight at Walt Disney World costs $18 for adults (10 and up) and $12 for children (3-9). That’s a bargain compared to the Navy Pier Aeroballoon in Chicago which costs $25 for adults (13 and up) $12 for children (12 and under).

The real bargain is the Great Park Balloon in Irvine. It’s absolutely free. Even parking is free.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Take your boarding pass to the waiting area.

I like free, so I drove to Irvine one morning during my last visit to California. It was a beautiful spring day. Blue sky. Nice breeze. Oops! A breeze on the ground can mean winds higher up sufficient to shut the ride down.

I was lucky. The balloon was operating. But it was operating with fewer passengers per flight. Apparently the physics of the balloon and gondola is such that weight becomes an issue as wind speed increases.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

A fine product of Ballonbau Wörner GmbH (Germany) and Aérophile S.A. (France).

I signed a waiver form at the Great Park Visitor’s Center and was informed I would be called in 45 minutes. I spent some time looking at the exhibits about Orange County Great Park. Then I decided to explore outside.

Minutes later, a host from the Visitor’s Center tracked me down. I could board right away. Apparently, there was a spot for one more person on the next flight.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Rising into the blue California sky.

As I watched the balloon landing, I wondered why I had signed up. I don’t like heights. I was uncomfortable the last time I was at the top of the Space Needle in Seattle, even though I was behind glass in structure firmly planted in the ground. Now I was about to stand in an open-air, aluminum doughnut swaying in the wind hundreds of feet above a defunct air base.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Get a view of the defunct Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro.

The flight was great! Surprisingly, the experience didn’t trigger any fear-of-heights reaction in me. I felt completely safe. Don’t ask me why.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

A timeline on one of the decommissioned runways gives the history of El Toro.

Sure, the view of Florida’s Downtown Disney from Characters-In-Flight is probably more fun. But the view of the former Marine Corps Air Station in the Saddleback Valley is good too. Light haze in the air blocked a clear view of Anaheim, 15 miles northwest of the balloon. On completely clear days, it should be easy to spot the tall landmarks of the Disneyland Resort.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Modjeska Peak (5,496 feet) and Santiago Peak (5,689 feet) form Old Saddleback.

So why are flights of the Great Park Balloon free when similar flights cost $10 to $25 elsewhere?

Public relations.

The Orange County Great Park Corporation is redeveloping the 4,700-acre former Marine Corps Air Station at El Toro, which was decommissioned in 1999. The centerpiece will be a huge 1,300-acre metropolitan park—but that’s less than a third of the whole site.

In 2007, a homebuilder, Lennar Corp., paid for the $1-million balloon and pledged another $900,000 towards its operating costs.

Aerophile AERO30NG tethered ballon

Coming back down for a landing.

If you want to take a ride on any tethered passenger balloon, be sure to check ahead if the ride is operating. Even if the air is calm at ground level, winds at higher elevations can close the ride. Also, as winds increase, passenger capacity decreases, so waits can become very long.

For current hours of operation and other information, see:

Characters-In-Flight | Walt Disney World Resort
Orange County Great Park | Great Park Balloon

Click here to discuss this page on the Yesterland Discussion Forum at MiceChat!


Wizarding World
ESPN Zone
Home


© 2010-2010 Werner Weiss — Disclaimers, Copyright, and Trademarks
 
Updated July 15, 2011.
 
Photo of PanoraMagique at the Disneyland Paris Resort: 2005 by Werner Weiss.
Photos of Characters-In-Flight ticket booth and balloon at Walt Disney World: 2009 by Werner Weiss.
Photo of view from Characters-In-Flight balloon at Walt Disney World: 2009 by Kevin Yee.
Photos of Great Park Visitor’s Center, Great Park Balloon, and the view at Orange County Great Park, Irvine: 2010 by Werner Weiss.