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More Than Just Hot Air

EVER wonder what the view would be like from inside a hot-air balloon?

Monitor photographer Robert Harbison did. And when he had a chance to find out a few years ago, he made sure he brought his camera along.

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This balloon was being inflated for a lighter-than-air flying extravaganza in Kent, Wash. Peering inside, Harbison was surrounded by the hoarse whoosh of a hot-air burner coaxing the fabric to life. A pinwheel of color vibrated around him. On the walls, shadow people - shades of those standing outside - wavered and watched in silent awe.

Balloons were the first way mankind broke its chains to the earth, preceding heavier-than-air flying craft by a century. Pilatre de Rozier and the Marquis d'Arlandes made the first manned flight, lazily drifting 5-1/2 miles over Paris on Nov. 21, 1783, in a balloon designed by the Montgolfier brothers, Jacques Etienne and Joseph.

Today's aeronauts usually don't set a record when they ascend. These latter-day Phileas Foggs, even though their journeys fall far short of 80 days or around the world, just love to lift off into the air and announce themselves to the groundlings with their unmistakable party-colored airships. These flashy craft don't need to fly over the rainbow; they bring one along. They're sky-high flights of fancy - or, at the very least, fancy flights.

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