In Which Your Intrepid Author Takes A Balloon Ride In The Interests Of Steampunk & Timeless (Parasol Protectorate special Extras)

Details for Writers of the Floating Persuasion

So as you may have guessed, Gentle Reader, from the time frame, the Finishing School series involves a lot more balloons than it does dirigibles ~ oh, dirigibles are there too, but of a more primitive persuasion than in the Parasol Protectorate. So I decided for my birthday I’d recruit five friends and go up in a balloon to see what it was really like.

First attempt in a dirigible balloon, aerostat of the academy of Dijon (1784), early flight collecting card, ca. 1895

First attempt in a dirigible balloon, aerostat of the academy of Dijon (1784), early flight collecting card, ca. 1895

After reviewing Yelp I selected Napa Valley Balloons, Inc and I was very satisfied with my choice. What follows are some photos of the jaunt as well as my notes, from a steampunk writer perspective, on the trip. (There are no photos of self because we had to get up at 4:30 am in order to get there in time, and darlings, I do not photograph well at that time of the morning.)


Basket is made or wicker (need the flexibility, old technology is still good) with a frame of suede wrapped steal and weighs 1000 lbs. People stand in baffles, like beer bottles in a six-pack. This is so that when we land and the basket goes on its side we don’t crush each other. If the baffles weren’t there it would still be un-advisable to move around in the balloon all that much that quickly, if even one person jumps the whole basket vibrates.


Wicker was in for spring, so we were right on trend!

Ears popping.

Feel breeze = sheer, means the balloon is in one wind while the basket is in another. If the discrepancy is too severe the balloon starts to cave. Must then point the burner at the cave-in. (This might occur in my universe when a balloon rises up far enough to hit an aether current.)

Since balloons move with the wind they can also get stuck inside a cloud using the same wind. (He he, cloud cover!)


Balloon’s like cold weather.

Shadow of the balloon bellow is pretty cool looking. Multiple balloons are rising at once all looking for different winds at different rates, this looks like bubbles in champagne. It feels faster if you are going up while another balloon is going down, otherwise there is very little sensation of movement.


Pilot not captain. (Pilot a little perturbed to be asked things such as, “What if you mounted a cannon on the side of the basket and fired, how would the kick back effect flight?” And, “How fast would we fall if I pulled that vent cord?” The other passengers were also a little upset, much to my surprise.)

1200 feet a minute is as fast as it will drop, but you still won’t feel anything, no sinking feeling.


There is a scoop sale attached to the bottom of the balloon over one half of the basket, for when you hit the ground, you face the scoop to gather wind and stabilize the basket.

Can attach things to the edge of the lower part of the balloon on pulley systems.

Balloon is equip with rotation vent. Pulling on the cord to one side opens the vent on the other.


The basket and balloon are constantly spinning around slowly, no sense of front or back, let or right, only up and down. Could only stay facing the same direction by constantly opening and loosing vents.

The pilot raises and lowers the balloon looking for different wind directions at different altitudes. Make note of each direction as they go through the levels and then return to one they want to use. (Could dangle an inflated blowfish over the side to test the direction of the winds bellow.)


Upon landing must keep knees bent as basket may bump up and down a couple times. Also might fall on its side and get dragged along. (Why not build the basket with a curved side like a webby-wobbly so it’s very hard for it to tip over?)

Near the end of landing, in order to deflate the balloon completely, the entire top middle of the balloon contracts inward (looks like a parasol) at 35 feet across.

If you come down over an area where you don’t want to land, you just stay hovering about 8 feet up and cast out a line to a crew on the ground who will drag you to a better patch for landing.

The End

A few of the above tidbits of information have already been used for Timeless, Book the Fifth in the Parasol Protectorate series. Thank goodness I went when I did because I was at exactly the right point in the writing process to still make edits concerning the reality of balloon travel. Most informative and useful . . . oh, and fun!

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Quote of the Day:
“The difference between perseverance and obstinacy is that one comes from a strong will, and the other comes from a strong won’t.”
~ Henry Ward Beecher

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Posted by Gail Carriger

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  1. Claire said:

    Lovely post Gail! Glad I stumbled on your blog (though with Steampunk Daily, still need to see what this Stumbled Upon thing is all about).

    Those are really cool pictures! I went on a hot air balloon as a kid, wish I could remember it. This post is making me want to go! <3

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