For 17 years, third-generation and FAA–certified sky engineer Addison M. Brown has hoisted panorama junkies into the sky by harnessing the power of hot, blustery air. Each morning, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., he and his team pile up to 8 to 14 passengers into the basket of their giant balloons. Then, firing off the burner, they slowly lift off as the sun begins its own ascent, typically reaching heights from 500 to 2,000 feet. Below them, the rays of the sunrise wash over vistas of downtown Asheville, a patchwork of multicolored crop fields, and the tree-covered backs of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Maneuvering with the morning's mild wind currents, they ferry the group over hills and hollows for a 3- to 5-mile float. Upon a gentle landing, the crew celebrates with passengers by offering them a champagne toast and helping them dust the clouds out of their hair. Passengers are welcomed to bring their own cameras or video cameras to document the flight.
According to many Asheville residents, the best place to propose marriage is about a mile above the trees, with mountains in the background and a good grip on the ring. Such engagement flights might even lead to a midair wedding party comprising four colorful balloons all tethered together as they ferry well-wishers through the clouds. When the baskets touch down, a traditional champagne toast pays homage to the journey and the bond shared by its passengers.
Asheville Hot Air Balloons' pilots also helm more casual sunrise flights seven days a week. Each expedition takes them over Pisgah National Forest according to the whims of the breeze and the severity of the moon's allergies. The wind's unpredictable path ensures that the last leg of the trip is always exhilarating—"chasers" must tail and land the balloon in the nearest suitable space by securing ropes thrown from its basket. Spring, summer, and fall flights all arrest riders with their own brands of scenery, from woodland greenery to fiery tableaus of autumn leaves.
Most people associate flying with the sound of whirring engines, intercoms buzzing, and even propellers sputtering into a spin. Wonders of Flight at WonderWorks, however, removes all audible distractions—its helium-filled balloon rises above the trees with nary a hum or vibration. The effect, says the website, is akin to "being on a flying balcony."
A maximum of 30 people can stand on the balloon's circular gondola as it ascends up to 500 feet in the air. After takeoff, passengers are treated to a sprawling view of the Smoky Mountains, as well as a bird's-eye perspective of the upside-down WonderWorks attraction. These 5- to 10-minute flights run throughout the day, permitting riders to snap photos of the scenery as the blue-and-green balloon levitates from its grounded tether. Wonders of Flight also hosts 30-minute wedding experiences, which afford couples ample time to say "I do," and toss a bouquet into a mob of jetpack-wearing bridesmaids.