Going up

By Deng Zhangyu ( China Daily ) Updated: 2014-01-09 07:10:06

Going up

Balloons gather for the China Hot Air Balloon Open, a race held in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. Photos provided to China Daily 

Hot air ballooning is a new pastime for Chinese, but it's catching on fast. Deng Zhangyu takes to the air with some brave spirits in Changzhou, Jiangsu.

Going up

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Going up

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Just a couple of years ago, Chen Chunyu could only imagine what it would be like to ascend 1,000 meters above the ground, to a place between the clouds and the sun. Now the hot air balloon pilot routinely takes "selfies" against a bird's-eye view of a city, then drifts away for the pure joy of floating through the air. Since 2011, Chen has flown over mountains and rivers, volcanos, grasslands, terraced fields and other picturesque places around China.

"It's different from taking a flight by airplane," he says of his special kind of aircraft that allows Google Earth-style sightseeing without a computer screen or cellphone. "It's a dreamlike feeling when you fly above the carpet-like clouds."

Chen runs a transportation company in Changzhou, Jiangsu province. He is one of the five pilots who have obtained a pilot certificate for hot-air balloons in the past two years there.

Across China, there are about 400 to 500 licensed balloonists, 90 percent of whom are individuals who get certified and then buy balloons on their own. The number of pilots started to rise with the new millennium, although the sport was introduced to the Chinese mainland in 1983.

In the 1980s, only professional pilots from aviation schools were allowed to fly these craft, explains Wu Gongyu, director of the ballooning commission of the Aero Sports Federation of China. Now, he says, more individuals who have money and time are taking up ballooning to relax and enjoy themselves.

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