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Love is in the (Bel) Air

A local couple became engaged with the help of a hot air balloon.

Hot air balloons conjure up notions of the romance and adventure of bygone days. They are very much a part of the present, though, in Harford County.

And the romance of ballooning is still alive and well thanks to Light Flight Balloons of Bel air.

At a recent hot air ballooning event in Harford County, Dan and Mary Ann Bogarty of Jarrettsville relayed the romance of one of their first rides five years ago. 

At the time, in April 2005, Dan had decided that after nine years of dating it was time to propose to Mary Ann.

To do so he enlisted the help of hot air balloon pilot Michael Gerred, owner of Light Flight Balloons of Bel Air, the only such company in the county.

Dan convinced Mary Ann and her mom, who is afraid of heights, that the balloon trip was an Easter present. But he had to wait until Mary Ann booked the trip to put his scheme into motion.

"I didn't call to book the trip until July," she said.

Finally, the ladies went airborne and the fear of heights faded in five minutes, according to Mary Ann.

They enjoyed their scenic ride above the meandering Deer Creek as Dan followed in the chase vehicle. When landing approached, Gerred called in a warning over the phone. The prospective husband gathered up his three-foot tall, white, painted 2x4 letters and set to work.

"I was running on adrenaline," Dan said. "I probably couldn't do it today."

As the balloon swung around to land at Jarrettsville Nurseries, he knew she had seen his message because he heard her scream. That was a "yes."

"I didn't think he was ever going to ask," Mary Ann said.

"Michael told me, 'Don't do it.' He said that it never works," Dan said.

"I'm glad he didn't listen," Mary Ann replied.

A little more than five years later, they still share a love for each other as well as for hot air balloons.

Gerred's Light Flight Balloons is the oldest ride-operating company in Maryland. It's been in operation for nearly 30 years.

"I have a master's in health care administration. I did that for 15 years and I left it 20 years ago to fly full time. I like this office better," he said, patting the basket.

The idea of floating in the air with nothing but a wicker basket between you and the earth may not appeal to everyone, especially to those with a fear of heights, but the pilot has some comforting words.

"It only takes about five minutes and then they're fine," Gerred said.

Here is how the adventure works: As the basket is laid on the ground sideways and attached, the seven story tall balloon is initially inflated using two industrial fans to force air into the silky fabric.

Crews then use tethers to pull the balloon and basket upright and the propane burners force 50 million British Thermal Units worth of hot air into the balloon.

There is an exhilarating whoosh as the pilot releases the fiery blasts, which resemble the tail end of a dragster. The heat from the blue-white flames gently lifts passengers skyward.

Whatever initial fears passengers have quickly disappear among the clouds. All too soon, the ride is over and the landing is barely felt.

A tradition traced to France, one of ballooning's homes, is to have a champagne toast after landing.  

Light Flight Balloons offers half-hour and one-hour flights at the rates of $150 and $220, respectively, per person. Its three pilots are FAA licensed and its seven balloons are FAA certified. Find out more at www.fun-flying.com or by calling 410-836-1116.

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