I have a totally reasonable and healthy fear of heights. When I was really young my family lived in a town that had a huge bridge that had to be crossed in order to get in and out of town. Every time we drove across this bridge I would freak out a little bit as my fear of heights would kick in. The fear would have me undo my seat belt, slink down to the floor of the car and crunch myself into as small a space as possible until we made it safely to the other side. To this day that same bridge gives me the heebie-jeebies when I have to drive across it.
So when my friends suggested we go on a hot air balloon ride while on vacation in Sedona, Arizona, it really got me nervous. On the last day of our trip we got up before the sun and drove out into the dessert so we could be up in the balloon for the sunrise. The Sedona area in November can be quite cold in the mornings and in the pre-dawn darkness there was frost on the ground and our footsteps crunched as we approached the launching ground for our balloon.
Before we could take off the balloon had to be prepped and filled with hot air. To do this the balloon is spread out on the ground and the basket is tipped onto its side. Then the burners are ignited and giant fans are pointed into the mouth of the balloon to force the hot air in. The burners are loud. The giant fans are really loud as well, turning the quiet, serene surroundings into a deafening din of machine and fire.
The balloon we were going up in had three burners. Each burner is essentially a giant blow-torch that converts propane into columns of flame. Here's a quick video that lets you hear the giant fans forcing the warm air into the balloon, followed by the sound of the burners firing on their own. The last portion plays a recording of both at the same time.
As you can tell it's not exactly a peaceful sound.
Eventually the balloon fills with enough hot air that it rises a little off the ground and the basket rolls upright and is ready for everyone to jump in before launch... including me.
At this point I was ready to freak out. I was about to have a full-on panic attack...... and then we simply lifted off the ground. It was smooth and calm. The ground started shrinking beneath us and I was surprised to find my heart rate calmed too and I was at ease very quickly. This was a piece of cake!! And the views were amazing. This is one of those situations where photos just can't capture how spectacular the view is.
The scenery was amazing. The ride was smooth, almost to the point of being surreal. We learned that since the balloon rides the wind currents, it is always moving with the wind so you don't really feel the breeze. Everything seems perfectly calm and there are no sudden pulls or jerks. You are floating in a way that at first seems completely impossible but quickly starts to feel normal.
While this would seem like the most relaxing activity imaginable - floating calmly through the sky - there is one thing that gets in the way of a perfect zen-like calm: the insanely loud noise pollution from the burners as they are frequently ignited and extinguished. The pilot uses the burners to boost the balloon's height in order to catch the air currents at different altitudes. So throughout the ride at seemingly random intervals a sudden blast of flame is launched a few feet above your head up into the balloon. To give you an idea of what it is like, watch this little video with the sounds from the trip. Turn your speakers way up to get the full effect.
Luckily I brought along a recording kit to grab lots of the bursts of fire from the balloon burners. It's quite quiet way up in the sky so I was able to get some really clean recordings of the burners in action.
I am offering up free downloads featuring 20 different bursts of flames from the hot air balloon burners for readers to use in their own projects. Except for the start and end, each burst is essentially filtered white noise while the flames are roaring. Yet the starts and stops can be really useful, if used smartly. With some creative editing and some judicious use of plugin processing I have been able to use these sounds quite a bit in recent projects. The bursts were handy as a sweetner element in scene with a large building going up in flames, they allowed me to give the fire some added character. It also was used in weapon sound design for an anime series I worked on.
Feel free to jump over to the Free Downloads page on this site to grab your copy of these great sounds. They are delivered at 24/96 with Soundminer embedded metadata. All I ask in return is that you either follow me on twitter (@azimuthaudio) or subscribe to the RSS feed for this site. This way you can be in the loop when new Free SFX download packs are released in the future.
Photographs courtesy of Ehrin Albright and Regan Clarke