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Beautiful - but fraught with dangers
Member Name: Randal
Date: 11/11/10, updated on 30/04/12 (121 review reads)
Advantages: Beautiful in the night sky
Disadvantages: Need 2 people to set up and launch
I've often seen pictures of these Sky Lanterns in various places on the web, and I've heard people talking about seeing them floating in the sky when they've been somewhere, but I could never really find any in the shops, and I so wanted to get one for my son because he loves this sort of thing. And then I was wandering around town and went into one of those gadget type shops and they had them for £1 each. So I bought 2 of them.
I think there are many varieties of these around, and there will probably be many more in the run up to Christmas because they seem to be popular. The ones we bought were by a company called Global Gizmos. The details on the outside of the packet lists the Lanterns as being 100% biodegradable, with up to a 20 minute flying time and being made from a flame resistant material.
When we got home, we opened up the packet, where each packet contains a single Sky Lantern. On the packet, they look like a graceful elongated upside down shopping bag with a sort of fine stiff structure at the bottom holding it open and supporting the cup holding the flame. When you actually get it out of the wrapping it is all carefully collapsed into a flat heap. The paper lantern material does feel fairly fragile, so you need to be careful handling it.
Opened out, it has a sort of flattish top which then forms down into a round opening which is held in shape by a lightweight ring. Across the ring there are a couple of cross pieces to provide support for the heat bit. The heat bit is provided by a wax fuel cell that is intended to sit in the middle of the cross pieces so that the heat it provides flow upwards into the upside down lantern.
The first thing to note is that you need to try and find a calm day (or preferably night because the effect is better) where the wind speed is below 5 miles per hour. Then you also have to be free from trees, overhead cables, aircraft flight paths, anywhere near the coast (in case the coast guard consider it as an boat or ship alarm signal), anywhere near dry crops etc etc - the list based on common sense goes on and on.
To set this lantern up and then launch it is a 2 person job, because initially it is quite large at a few feet tall, but also someone needs to hold it upright whilst the other person lights the fuel cell. Due to the size, potential fire hazard and the fragility of it, it is recommended as not being suitable for anyone under 18 years old.
The actual fuel cell looks like a small piece of flat cardboard covered in a waxy substance. With one person holding the lantern up ready for launch, the other person needs to light 2 corners of this cardboard, which can be tricky if you are using matches because it can take a while for the cardboard and wax to ignite. We used a candle in the end to save burning our fingers. But after it does light, the combination will begin to burn quite fiercely. The heat then generated starts to inflate the lantern fully and warms the air inside. From school you learn that warm air rises, and so as the lantern warms after a few minutes, it starts to go upwards.
When we did this with the first lantern, it was a bit of a faff trying to hold it upright, light the cell and then get it to take off straight up. With the second lantern, we had learnt the technique and it was a much smoother process.
It is kind of awe inspiring to actually see these lanterns float up into the air, and I would strongly recommend launching it at night. The flame burning inside the white lantern gives it an overall orange glow which looks more spectacular in the night sky. When we launched, there was practically no wind. So up to about 100 feet, the lanterns went straight up. After that it seemed that a slight breeze caught them and they started to drift off as they climbed. And they kept on climbing and drifting off until they became small dots in the distance.
I do have a few concerns though about these lanterns. Firstly, they are quite large and definitely 2 people are required to launch it. You also need to be extremely careful about what you are doing. Ok, the lantern itself is flame resistant, but if it catches a tree, bush or something else that is flammable after being launched, you could end up with a real problem if that fuel cell ignites something else, which is probably why they are restricted to over 18 years only. And then you have the issue of if you do manage to successfully launch it and it comes down early, or with the fuel cell still smouldering, what happens if it ignites something then on the ground? What about if the lantern comes down on a main road and gets entangled on a motorist? The list of potential dangers is endless.
On the one hand they are very beautiful when they launch and as you watch them disappear into the sky. But on the other, they are fraught with dangers, especially if launched around built up areas.
Balancing the arguments, for the sheer beauty of them, I would give them 5 stars. But the danger element does concern me enough to knock a couple of stars off.
So overall, a 3 star rating from me.
Review also on Ciao under Randal1.
Summary: A great sight in the night sky, but you need to consider the dangers.