Female air traveler rises to the occasion
July 23, 2004
WHAT: Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning.
WHEN: 1 to 10 p.m. today, 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Solberg Airport, 30 Thor Solberg Road, Readington.
HOW MUCH: $20, children 54 inches and under $10, children 3 and under free.
Fear of heights, a near collision with a military plane, and a gun-bearing farmer defending his field haven't kept Mary Beth Young from taking to the skies.
"There's a peace and freedom when you're up in a balloon that's like no other experience in the world," said the Parsippany resident. "If it wasn't for the sound of the burner, there would be total silence up there."
Young will be one of 10 women pilots taking off during a sunset launching of 125 balloons tonight at the opening of the Quick Chek New Jersey Festival of Ballooning in Readington.
"This is our 10th year participating in this festival," said Young, who will take turns with her husband, Dick Young, piloting their $28,000 balloon named Going My Way. "We love it because it brings us together with friends we haven't seen for a while, and there are great views over New Jersey."
Although ballooning is a male-dominated sport, the number of female pilots participating in the Readington festival is on the rise, said executive producer Howard Freeman. Of the 223 members of the Great Eastern Balloon Association serving New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, 32 are women.
"Women bring a lot to the table because they tend to be precise and analytical and are often calmer than men under pressure," Freeman said. Those are traits that come in handy, for example, when operating the burner, which creates the hot air necessary to make the balloon rise. Sensitive touch is also required when venting air to allow for a smooth descent.
New Jersey was the home of the first American woman to fly solo in a gas-filled balloon. In 1854, Lucretia Bradley purchased a secondhand balloon for $100 from John Wise, a prominent balloonist. He cautioned her that it was in poor condition and she might not be safe flying it.
"She replied: 'If it was strong enough for you, it's strong enough for me,'" said Pat Reilly, executive director of the Aviation Hall of Fame in Teterboro.
Bradley filled her new toy with fuel from gas lamp outlets in a Pennsylvania park. Soon a crowd had gathered to see how well "the lady" would do.
"She shot into the air twice as fast as anyone had expected and was at least a half a mile up and out over the Delaware River when the balloon exploded," Reilly said. "Bradley parachuted down using meshing that was hooked over the gondola and landed safely in Still Valley," now a section of Phillipsburg.
Young's story is a little different.
"I felt like I was dragged into ballooning about 10 years ago when my husband went for his pilot's license," Young said. "I knew if I wanted to spend time with him, I would have to go up in a balloon."
Fearing that in an emergency she might have to take the controls, Young took lessons.
"Once I got my hand on that burner I was hooked," said Young, who runs a ballooning business with her husband.
Her most exciting adventures included the day a military plane flew directly toward the balloon, and Young's air venting skills helped the balloon make an extra-quick descent to take herself and two passengers out of harm's way. Then there was the day a farmer came at her with a gun when she landed in his field.
"Other balloonists hadn't respected his property, and he didn't want us landing there," she said. "We promised we wouldn't be back."
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Grounded and airborne activities