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Hot air balloon event at Red Hawk Ridge offers lessons about science, aviation

Rex Alan Jennings with hot air balloon.Rex Alan Jennings has long dreamed of the freedom of flight.

Standing in a dusty field next to Red Hawk Ridge Elementary school on May 18, Jennings spoke about childhood dreams of weightlessness, of early memories of envisioning himself floating over fences and fields.

Behind him, a massive hot air balloon offered a visual testament to his commitment to that dream.

“As a child, I always dreamed of floating,” Jennings said as Red Hawk students watched the progress of the balloon inflating from a nearby soccer field. “When I took my first ride in a balloon, I was home … What could be better?”

Now a grandfather, Jennings visited Red Hawk Ridge with his wife and “crew chief” Lorraine and other family members to offer a visual testament to the majesty of flight. At a safe distance from the assembled students, who offered audible “oohs” and “aahs” as the balloon inflated with the aid of propane and hot air, Jennings spoke about his mission to inspire future pilots in the elementary-school crowd.

“It’s enjoyable. I think it will inspire these students, maybe to become the next generation of young balloonists,” said Jennings, who started flying in hot air balloons in 1988. He came to Colorado from his home in Utah to show off his aircraft to students. “It’s a good chance to find out how balloons work.”

Jennings didn’t select Red Hawk Ridge randomly. His daughter, Janna Ramien, is a third-grade teacher at the school, and helped coordinate the visit from her parents. Ramien spoke about her own childhood, one that included weekend family outings to hot air balloon festivals. As a kid, Ramien got used to heading out with the family to fill up the balloon and take to the air. It was only later that she realized that it wasn’t an everyday activity for most kids.

“This was our family thing. It was exciting, and it took me a little bit of time to realize that this wasn’t something that everyone did,” said Ramien, whose husband, Ryan Ramien, teaches at Altitude Elementary, where Jennings had brought the balloon the day before. “I wanted to bring that curiosity and adventure to the students (in my district).”

Ramien worked with the administration and the science department at Red Hawk Ridge to construct curriculum tied to the event. Students in different grades learned about weather, mass and states of matter, all tied to the science of flight and hot air ballooning. Students even had the chance to construct art projects depicting hot air balloons in different phases of flight.

“It’s easy to tie this to science standards,” Ramien said. Red Hawk Ridge’s principal Michelle Chambers added, “We’ve tied this experience to our science standards, and we’re drawing deeper meaning from the experience for the students.”

While the weather conditions didn’t allow for a full hot air balloon flight on May 18, students got to see the process behind getting the massive craft into the air. They watched as yards and yards of canvas filled with air and took shape; they saw how a combination of flame and fans puffed up the balloon to a massive size; and they witnessed the basket that serves as the cockpit come upright. It was a short snapshot of the full flight process, but it was enough to inspire cheers, laughter and wonder.

Jennings knows that feeling well. It was what drove his dreams of flight as a child, and what inspired subsequent decades of floating through the air in a hot air balloon.

-- Posted 5/24/22 at 1 PM