LAYTON -- To cheers of "how cool," Vae View Elementary students watched their principal and several teachers fly high in a hot-air balloon.
But pilot Danny Stam was quick to correct them, saying, "If it was cool, it wouldn't be called a hot-air balloon."
As Antelope Island gears up for the annual Stampede Festival this weekend -- which includes hot-air balloon demonstrations -- its Kites and Balloons to Schools program had hot-air balloonists visiting several schools in Davis School District during the week. The balloonists made it to Vae View Elementary in Layton on Wednesday.
"This is a new experience for the kids, getting to experience a hot-air balloon up close. Many of us haven't been exposed to them," Principal Bernardo Villar said.
Fifth-grader German Campos said he had never seen a hot-air balloon before, so he avidly watched the process.
"It's definitely awesome, and bigger than I thought it would be," German said.
The 60-foot-wide balloon became a ride for Villar and several teachers. Villar looked slightly nervous on his ascent while standing in the basket with the pilot, leading several on-lookers to wonder if he was afraid of heights.
Once firmly on the ground, he confirmed their suspicions.
"I'm a little afraid of heights, but it wasn't that bad at all, knowing the ropes were there to secure the balloon. That made it a little better," Villar said.
Manning the hot-air balloon is no small feat, according to Cathy Stam, the pilot's wife, who said it takes a crew of at least five people to operate the balloon.
"It's the only form of aviation that's social, because it takes a group of people, so we're always meeting new people," she said.
The Stams, who reside in Holladay, are contracted with RE/MAX to fly their hot-air balloon at activities throughout the state, including visits to schools.
"We love visiting with the kids because of their enthusiasm, and it teaches them about the history of aviation and how hot air rises," Cathy Stam said.
Fifth-grade teacher Nancy Kemp had the chance to go up in the balloon, which she said was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I was kind of scared, but sometimes it is best not to let fears rule your life, and besides, the view was amazing, seeing all of the kids from above," Kemp said.
Students participated in a question-and-answer assembly afterward with the pilot. One student wanted to know why the balloon didn't melt with the hot air blasted inside.
Danny Stam told the group the balloon material is treated with fire-retardant chemicals, and the flame from the burners only goes up about 15 feet, far enough away from the 60-foot wide walls that the heat doesn't usually touch the material.
Danny Stam also told students, "there is enough heat from the propane burners to heat 100 homes for a year."
Another student wanted to know how high the balloon could go, to which Danny Stam replied that his balloon can go up to 18,000 feet high, and some special hot-air balloons can go as high as 20,000 to 30,000 feet, but they require special fuel, and the pilot has to wear a special pressure suit and oxygen tank.
Danny Stam told students that to operate a hot-air balloon, the pilot is required to have a license from the Federal Aviation Administration. Before he began flying hot-air balloons, he flew small airplanes, so he has the necessary pilot's license.