The Happiest Balloon Visits San Francisco

by Frank Anzalone, staff writer
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Disneyland 50th Anniversary Celebration Takes to the Skies with Mickey Mouse

The “Happiest Balloon on Earth” took to the skies of the San Francisco Bay Area on Wednesday, April 19. The tour that consists of an 11-week tour traveling throughout the western United States and Canada made its fifth city stop at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco.


An official hot air balloon travel vehicle, this pick-up truck pulls a trailer that carries gear. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


The crew travel in a specially marked bus. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


The crew first unload, open and set the balloon across a very large blue tarp. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


The balloon is almost fully unfurled on the blue tarp, and begins to show some identifiable parts, including some hints of gold. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

This hot air balloon was created especially to be part of the Disneyland 50th anniversary celebration and is planned to be set against such scenic and familiar backdrops as the Grand Canyon and the Golden Gate Bridge. This was the first hot air balloon to ever rise over the Grand Canyon.


The crew carefully makes sure that the lines that connect the balloon to the basket are clean. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


A crew member test fires the balloon. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


The uninflated balloon, tethered to a basket, begins to look like a familiar mouse. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The flight plans began at 5:30 a.m. at the yacht club parking lot. The Disneyland motor home (for ground support, TV and radio remote support) and a custom chase vehicle and trailer parked and began to unload the balloon. I was amazed on how well the crew worked together, incredibly well choreographed to unload, open and inflate the balloon.


The crew begins the process of filling the balloon with hot air. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


The process of inflating the balloon takes several people. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

In order to launch a balloon, the weather conditions have to be perfect. Northern California has had constant rain for near seven weeks straight, yet this one morning the air was clear and calm, the sun came out and all was set to inflate and launch the Golden Ears Balloon. Absolutely perfect weather conditions! Generally, flights are done between sunrise and 10 a.m. Midday weather is completely unpredictable due to the day's fluctuating heat of the atmosphere.


The large size of the balloon is visible as hot air begins to inflate it. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Still not completely inflated, the hot air balloon is now very recognizable. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

“This is my Ear-Force One, Co-pilot Scott Spencer told me yesterday morning, “Today is perfect for a flight.” Scott and his wife, Laurie is co-piloting the balloon during the tour.


Balloon pilot Scott Spencer. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

At about 6 a.m., the crew stretched out a tarp to lay the folded balloon on as they unfolded it with care. Two gas-powered fans were used to blow the initial air into the balloon to open up the folded material and then the propane powered flames made several short bursts to heat the air.


The hot air balloon now floats upright as most of the air is filled. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Even Mickey's nose needs inflating. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Hot air balloon gets its final touches of hot air in the early morning hours. San Francisco's famed Golden Gate Bridge is visible in the background. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Hot air balloon, inflated but not yet in the air, with the bridge in the background. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

The balloon opened up and lifted off the ground very quickly and the remaining inflation (with the hot air blasts) took about five more minutes. They were set for flight!


We have lift-off! Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Still tethered to the ground, the Disneyland hot air balloon rises above the ground. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Everyone helps with the hot air balloon, even Mickey. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

As the balloon began to rise, Mickey Mouse appeared (on the ground) and interacted with us (and many of the unsuspecting morning joggers that typically run the park). During a quiet moment, I was able to take Mickey to the bay water's edge and set up a photo opportunity with two of the most recognizable American icons, Mickey and the Golden Gate Bridge.


Mickey jogs with unsuspecting locals. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

This event was a “tethered flight” (just off the ground). TV crews from NBC and ABC were there to do a remote from the balloon for the morning news. By 8 am, the balloon was back on the ground. Someone there said, “see… even though Mickey has a big head, he will always be a down-to-Earth mouse!”


Mickey and 50th Anniversary Ambassardor Andrae Rivas sit on a rock wall in front of the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Mickey at the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Frank Anzalone.


Mickey at the Golden Gate Bridge. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

A few fun facts…

  • The Happiest Balloon on Earth was the first hot air balloon to ever rise over the Grand Canyon
  • 2,000 averaged-sized children could easily fit inside the inflated balloon
  • Mickey's nose is 5.5 feet in diameter
  • If Mickey's body were added to the balloon, he would stand over 200 feet tall
  • Laurie Spencer (wife of co-pilot Scott Spencer) is the first female pilot of a Disney hot air balloon.
  • Height: 98 feet from ground to top of the ears
  • Weight: 410 pounds
  • Circumference: 168 feet
  • Volume: 90,000 cubic feet
  • Lift capacity: 1800 pounds max gross lift
  • Thread use: 9 miles of thread to build the balloon!
  • Gold fabric for mouse ears: approximately 750 square yards
  • Fabric: approximately 4744 square yards
  • Manufactured by Cameron Balloons US out of Ann Arbor, Michigan


The crew of the Disneyland 50th Anniversary hot air balloon will be visiting a city near you. Photo by Frank Anzalone.

Balloon Tour locations and dates:

  • Tucson, AZ (March 30-31)
  • Phoenix, AZ (April 3-4)
  • San Diego, CA (April 6-7)
  • Fresno, CA (April 17)
  • San Francisco, CA (April 19-20)
  • Sacramento, CA (April 25-26)
  • Vancouver, BC (May 2-3)
  • Seattle, WA (May 9-10)
  • Portland, OR (May 15-16)
  • Salt Lake City, UT (May 22-23)
  • Albuquerque, NM (May 25-26)

In addition to the photos above, we thought a number of his photographs would make for good computer desktops (particularly for any San Francisoc-based Disney fans) and so we've put together the following selection.

First click on your favorite photo from the ones offered below, and a new window will open. Then select the screen resolution that matches your monitor and right-click on the photo (Mac users should click and hold). Select the option from the resulting menu for using the photo as your wallpaper.