A new virtual reality (VR) experience lets people experience the thrill of riding in a hot air balloon without an actual balloon, but how does this stack up against the real thing?
At the 2018 Mobile World Congress show in Barcelona, a simulation of hot air balloon flying using the HTC Vive virtual reality headset was demonstrated. Participants step inside a genuine hot air balloon basket and put on their headset to be taken to the Arizona desert and over the Grand Canyon. To make the experience more realistic, a motorised rig moves the basket around as users move. A fan blasts wind to simulate the Arizona wind.
Above the basket is a burner. Pull the lever and the balloon appears to rise. A heater warms your hand when the burner is operated, just like the real thing.
The simulation is a great way to get a feel of what it is like to fly in a real hot air balloon, but it cannot really compare. Perhaps it could be a good substitute when the wind is too strong to fly a hot air balloon.
People riding the VR simulation experienced some of the thrills of riding in a hot air balloon, and may want to try a real balloon ride. Fortunately, it is easy to book a hot air balloon ride, and not too expensive either. On the other hand, you need a large amount of money and a large living room to house the VR hot air balloon.
The best time to take off is at dawn or dusk. The canopy of the balloon is filled with hot air, then the passengers and the pilot climb into the basket. As the balloon slowly lifts off, you can see the beauty of the sunset or the sunrise.
If you fly in England or Wales, you will, of course, not see the Grand Canyon that the VR passengers see, but you do get to appreciate the stunning English or Welsh countryside from a bird’s eye view. There are many historic buildings that can be seen from the air – castles, mansions, old pubs and churches. If you fly from Bath, you may be lucky enough to see the stone circle of Stonehenge.
A virtual reality hot air balloon trip takes you only to places the programmers of the simulation have built into the system. A real hot air balloon ride is more of a mystery tour – where you go is dependent on the direction and speed of the wind. When you take off, you have no idea of where you will eventually land.
A ride in the VR hot air balloon experience is over in a few minutes, whereas a real hot air balloon flight lasts at least an hour and you travel for several miles. That’s before mentioning the memories it will leave you with!
All in all, a VR hot air balloon flight is a thrilling experience, but it does not give you the peak experience of flying in a real hot air balloon.