When getting cheese in western New York, I was asked if I had ever woven a balloon basket. Thinking of balloon shaped baskets and balloon shaped backs of wicker chairs, I said Sure, but I have no room in the van to take it with me. "You need to follow me and see the basket," was the gentleman's reply.
We traveled up the road and pulled into a gorgeous driveway leading up to a beautiful barn. Pulling the barn door open, we entered and found some antique furniture and a restored pickup, maybe 1940ish. The gentleman climbed into the back of the pickup and pulled off a tarp, covering a tall basket. I then realized what he meant by a balloon basket and why he told me that I had to see the basket.
The hot air balloon gondola was impressive. Having never seen one up close, I was awestruck, but willing to give it my best shot. The base of the gondola appeared to have been drug on the ground while landing. The wicker was broken along the bottom center of two sides. The owner asked if I thought I could repair the basket......before the first of July. I assured him that I felt I could handle the job. Cost? No clue, maybe 200?
The owner had the basket trucked to my workshop, two hours from its home. As I spent the next few weeks researching hot air balloon baskets, I wondered that I may be in over my head. I can work through most project complications, but there were FAA regulations that complicated the project. The owner assured me that he would handle that work supervision and return to service inspection. As it worked out, his small craft pilot would serve in the roles for the repair.
With the regulations in hand, I contacted a number of small aircraft service units in the mid Atlantic region and got excellent advice and helpful cautionary guidance as well. As long as the repair was cosmetic, I should be fine with the repair.
I found a couple of US gondola manufacturers, when I was trying to isolate the type of basket and original basket builder. According to FAA regulations, I needed to order materials for the repair from the manufacturer and document all material purchases to show the project supervisor and inspector.
Thanks to some willing experts, I found that the basket was a Firefly basket. The triangle shape of the gondola makes for a very efficient and safe flight. In this basket design the spokes run horizontally with weavers that are woven vertically. This design made it simpler to make the repairs, in my humble opinion.
Once we got all the logistics ironed out and the materials were in hand, I solicited my teenage daughter to help out with the repair by serving as my insider. Literally, she worked from inside the basket while I directed the repair from the outside. I found it much easier to weave a basket this size with the help of others.
After replacing the broken spokes and we rewove the sides, we cleaned the basket and stained the new reed with a high quality stain. We applied several coatings of spar urethane finish to the entire basket and the wooden pallet floor of the basket.
This was a unique opportunity that thoroughly enjoyed. looking forward to the next opportunity.
Charles and Florence Elliott
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