A hot-air balloon that floated above the grassy field at David Starr Jordan Middle School on Monday carried some special passengers — two teachers and three administrators — much to the amazement of the students dozens of feet below.
Because the balloon, named “Lofty Idea,” needed to share the skies with traffic from Bob Hope Airport, it didn’t get too far above the field, where ropes tethered it to a trio of pickup trucks.
The balloon’s appearance followed two balloon-themed science projects that math and science teachers Sarah Reed and Catherine Eskandar conducted earlier this year.
Weeks ago, the two teachers and their students released dozens of helium balloons. Attached to the balloons’ strings were stamped post cards addressed to Jordan Middle School asking whoever found them to mail them back to the school.
The students later mapped out the locations where the postcards landed. Escondido, Long Beach and the Mojave Desert were some of the areas in which the balloons were found.
PHOTOS: Hot air balloon at Jordan Middle School
As the balloons floated away from the school, physical education teacher Helen Quayle observed them as she was teaching a class on the nearby playground.
When Quayle asked about the project, the teachers said they were testing wind patterns. That’s when Quayle divulged a side hobby she’s enjoyed for 17 years, setting up hot-air balloons for flight at festivals across the West Coast as a member of the Southern California Balloon Assn.
Coincidentally, Reed and Eskandar were preparing for another balloon-flight attempt, launching 9-foot-tall hot-air balloons that Jordan students made out of tissue paper and flew hundreds of feet into the air. Students did that project two weeks ago.
After getting permission from Principal Stacy Cashman, Quayle invited her friend, Maria Chieruzzi, the owner of “Lofty Idea,” to visit the campus to demonstrate a flight for the students.
“There’s nothing like taking what kids learn in class and giving them a practical application for it,” Quayle said.
In two separate lift-offs, the balloon, which is large enough to hold 77,000 basketballs, rose above hundreds of students who cheered as they watched Reed and Eskandar take the first flight, followed by Cashman, Assistant Principal Leonidas Tarca and Office Manager Kelley Dickson in the second.
Chieruzzi said the hot-air balloon world needs more pilots, and she hoped Monday’s event would inspire students to consider adopting the hobby one day.
“The opportunity of them getting to see something up-close, and what it looks like and how it works, might spur their interest a little more, beyond just science class,” she said.
Follow Kelly Corrigan on Twitter: @kellymcorrigan.