Forty years after Neil Armstrong embarked on the ultimate joy-flight to the moon, a whole range of all American adventure outfitters now offer some extraordinary ways to rise above it all.
Americans love to fly. Ever since the Wright Brothers first took to the skies at Kittyhawk in North Carolina, the US has been obsessed with claiming the heavens as their own. Take the Goodyear Blimp for example: for more than a century it has acted as a giant logo and camera platform for filming sporting events. Historically, this ultimate box seat has been the rare privilege of a select few. But, in 2009, a new company called Airship Adventures welcomed ordinary passengers to ride in the blimp's much larger cousin, the airship.
Measuring 246 feet (75 metres) in length and powered by three engines, the airship can reach freeway speeds but spends much of the time gracefully cruising at a more gentle pace above San Francisco at just 1300 feet (400 metres). Some guests describe it as 'flying on your own personal cloud'.
Even today's small plane operators offer far more than floating gently over bucolic scenery. To spice things up, one outfitter called Fighter Combat Training has added real ex-military pilots, fuselage-mounted smoke machines, laser sights, cameras, guns and high performance acrobatic aircraft to create a realistic air-to-air combat mission. The bullets may be fake but the buzz is most definitely real.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, held in the first week of October, is the largest festival of its kind in the world. There is something eternally graceful and awe-inspiring when anything takes to the skies en masse; at dawn on 'mass ascension' days, as many as 600 balloons take off in a simultaneous display that covers the horizon with a rainbow of gently rising color.
Mankind is reliant on a wonderful array of such contraptions to achieve the freedom of flight. If you're looking for that lofty feeling of being completely unencumbered by anything at all, the weightlessness of space can't be beaten. Flight passengers aboard one of Zero-G's specially modified 747s, climb to 34000 feet, then – when the plane dives - experience 30 seconds of weightlessness. Neil Armstrong would certainly approve.