it's a gas: Hot air balloon pilot Bill Baker at Brooks School.Photos by J. GEIL/Staff PhotographerClick here to see more photos of the hot air balloon...

Thirteen-year-old Casey Carey probably wasn’t expecting to have such a bad hair day at school Tuesday morning.

But the seventh-grader probably didn’t mind that her long blond locks were flailing away from the cool, jet-stream of two big fans that blew air inside a large hot-air balloon. Carey and her fellow seventh-graders dashed inside the airy and spacious balloon in the Brooks Middle School gym.

About 100 students walked inside, thanks to Chicago Realtor RE/MAX. The visit is part of a promotional program in which the company visits area schools, teaching kids about balloon history and technology.

Before going to the gym, the seventh graders listened to pilot Bill Baker in the school’s auditorium. Baker has been flying balloons for 30 years. The RE/MAX balloon can’t fly in the Chicago area, he said, because of certain no-fly zone rules in the city.

“I told the kids that if you ever look out your window and see a hot-air balloon flying around here or in the city, call Mom and Dad and grab a camera because he’s not going to be flying long,” Baker said.

Brooks students walked inside the balloon and then headed outdoors to the playfield to see the balloon’s passenger basket. Outside, Baker climbed inside, casually talking with some of the students while other kids talked amongst themselves.

“Aiiiiggggghhh!” the kids screamed, responding to the blast from the propane tank, sending upward the heat that powers hot air balloons toward the sky. The students relaxed and seemed to enjoy the subsequent blasts, though they didn’t care much for the heat it generated on this particular warm Oak Park day.

“You know, they can get their license to fly when they’re 14,” Baker said of any would-be pilots.

Carey said learning about balloons was “really cool. I’ve gone parasailing before, but this was a little different.”

Earlier that morning, the school’s sixth-graders got a chance to walk inside the balloon — and screech from the propane blast. The RE/MAX balloon is scheduled to visit Julian Middle School, 416 S. Ridgeland, on June 6.

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