ganley.org -> Writing -> Balloon

The Balloon

When I lived in the dorms in college, there were these enormous metal trash cans in the hall that accomodated equally enormous trash bags. The janitorial staff stored spare trash bags in the bottom of the can, and we would take them and use them for our own trash bag needs. One day, looking at these trash bags, two friends and I were struck with inspiration: this big-ass trash bag would make a fantastic hot-air balloon.

We then embarked on the kind of elaborate and utterly pointless project that only bored engineers-to-be can conceive. We bought a couple of three-foot sections of balsa wood and a package of birthday candles. We attached the pieces of wood in a big `+' sign, and affixed birthday candles every few inches along them. We put this contraption in the mouth of one of these trash bags, and ran an extension cord out of a first-floor window so we could inflate the bag with a hair dryer.

It was twilight. We lit all the candles and let go.

Much to our surprise -- I don't think any of us thought this junk would actually be airworthy -- it promptly took flight. It was a thing of beauty -- it floated up to about 50 feet, at which point it leveled off and began to move from our position next to East AJ over toward Pritchard.

It floated the couple of hundred feet across the quad between AJ and Pritchard, and as it neared Pritchard, we ran for the other side so we could see it when it cleared the building.

As it came back into view over the roof of Pritchard, we saw that disaster had struck - it was on fire! Not like a blazing inferno, but there were little fires burning all over the pieces of balsa. Presently, flaming pieces began to drop off, raining lit candles and burning pieces of balsa wood and trash bag onto the quad between Pritchard and O'Shaughnessy.

Eventually, the thing lost structural integrity, and it dropped in a flaming pile onto the basketball court in the middle of the quad.

It didn't cross our minds for more than a moment that we could've caught the dorm on fire, or dropped burning plastic on the head of some innocent passerby; our contraption had flown! We felt like the Wright brothers.