Our spectacular event spans
decades of rich aviation history!
Our Hot Air Balloons and Pilots amaze
and delight tens of thousands of spectators
each year with a full weekend of mass ascensions,
tethered rides & hot air balloon flights
and our traditional evening balloon glow!
Our festival offers live entertainment,
tastes of NC wines & craft beers,
fine artisan crafts,
activities, exhibits and great food!
Early Hot Air Balloon Pioneers. The Montgolfier brothers, born in Annonay, France, were the inventors of the first practical balloon. The first demonstrated flight of a hot air balloon took place on June 4, 1783, in Annonay, France.
Montgolfiere Balloon. Joseph and Jacques Montgolfier, paper mill owners, were trying to float bags made of paper and fabric. When the brothers held a flame near the opening at the bottom, the bag (called a balon) expanded with hot air and floated upward. The Montgolfier brothers built a larger paper-lined silk balloon and demonstrated it on June 4, 1783, in the marketplace at Annonay. Their balloon (called a Montgolfiere) lifted 6,562 feet into the air.
Hot air ballooning is the world’s oldest form of aviation and air travel.
In 1783, the Montgolfier brothers of Annonay, France made the first successful balloon flight in a balloon filled with smoke from a straw-fed fire. Today, over 225 years later, ballooning has become a recreational and competitive sport.
First Passengers. On September 19, 1783, in Versailles, a Montgolfiere hot air balloon carrying a sheep, a rooster, and a duck flew for eight minutes in front of Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, and the French court.
First Manned Flight. On October 15, 1783, Pilatre de Rozier and Marquis d'Arlandes were the first human passengers on a Montgolfiere balloon from central Paris to the city outskirts. The balloon was in free flight, meaning it was not tethered.
Montgolfier Gas. At the time, the Montgolfiers believed they had discovered a new gas (they called Montgolfier gas) that was lighter than air and caused the inflated balloons to rise. In fact, the gas was merely air, which became more buoyant as it was heated.
There were few advances to hot air ballooning for the next 170 years when the rebirth of ballooning took place in the 1960s and advances in technology made it possible to build safe, relatively affordable balloons.
Statesville's Hot Air Balloon History. In 1965, Ed Yost with Raven Industries in partnership with the US Air Force, began the development of modern hot air ballooning. With the assistance of Don Piccard and Tracy Barnes, hot air balloon designs were standardized for Federal Aviation Administration certification. This marked the beginning of the hot air balloon industry in the United States.
Bill Meadows and Tracy Barnes made the first flight in Iredell County, NC from Statesville on October 4, 1969. This was the maiden flight for the 'Land of Oz’, one of Tracy’s new design creations, the triangle wicker carriage.
In 1973, Tracy Barnes formed The Balloon Works right here in Statesville, North Carolina to manufacture and sell hot air balloons. The Balloon Works entry into ballooning with safe and affordable sport balloons helped to ignite the market for hot air ballooning in the United States.
The National Balloon Rally got its start in 1974 at Balloon Ascensions LTD (BAL), a flight instruction and corporate balloon company in north Statesville owned by Bill Meadows. As one of the BalloonWorks first dealers, Meadows invited Balloon Works customers from across the US to come to Statesville for a week of camping, flying and telling ballooning tales. The Rally moved to The Balloon Works facility near Love Valley, NC in 1978, where it was an informal, week-long gathering of hot air balloon enthusiasts and local spectators. The Rally quickly outgrew that location.
In 1982, Statesville Flying Service, The Balloon Works (currently Firefly Balloons) and the Greater Statesville Chamber of Commerce combined forces to bring the Rally to the Statesville Airport. The National Balloon Rally the second oldest balloon rally in the nation became one of the largest, most successful hot air balloon events in United States hosting 160 hot air balloons and up to 80,000 spectators. In 1996, the Rally relocated to the Iredell County Fairgrounds in Troutman, NC where it continued until 2006 when it was moved back to the newly-expanded Statesville Regional Airport.
Today, the spectacular festival continues to amaze and delight tens of thousands of spectators annually as Carolina BalloonFest. October 18-20, 2013 is the 40th year of Carolina BalloonFest; another full weekend of Mass Ascensions with 50 Hot Air Balloons, Sanctioned Contest, Amazing Balloon Glow, Live Entertainment, Tastes of NC Wines & Brews, Kids Zone, Fine Artisan Crafts & Exhibits, Edu-history and great food on Eat Street!
Join us the 3rd weekend each October!
Frequently Asked Questions about Hot Air Ballooning...
Why do flights take place only in the morning and the late afternoon?
Balloons need stable winds to operate effectively and the hours just following sunrise and approximately 2 hours before sunset are the best for finding these winds. Since balloons move with the air, the weather is very important in deciding to whether or not to fly. The pilot chooses a launch site to use the wind currents to fly towards a suitable landing site.
How is the balloon inflated?
When the time comes to put the balloon up, the envelope is removed from the bag and laid out in a long line. The burners are attached to the uprights, and the basket is attached to the cables on the bottom of the envelope. An engine driven fan is used to inflate the envelope with cold air. When partially inflated, the air is heated by a burner and the envelope rises above the basket. With further heating, there is sufficient 'lift' for the balloon to fly.
What kind of fuel is used for the burners?
To heat the air, the burners are fueled by propane gas, much the same as you probably use in your backyard barbecue grill. The burners do not run continuously; they are only used intermittently to heat the air to maintain the required lift.
How large are hot air balloons?
Most balloons are larger than your house. They hold from 19,000 to 211,000 cubic feet of air and loom from 50 to 100 feet tall. The average balloon height is 70 feet.
How far do balloons fly?
Again...it depends on the wind speed. Hot Air Balloons travel with the wind and an hour flight can carry it up to 15 miles, sometimes more, sometimes less. The balloon also flies at different altitudes. Although the balloon is at the mercy of the wind when it comes to direction, the vertical control of a balloon can be very precise. It is not unusual for our pilots to be able to brush the bottom of the basket across the tops of brush, or inches from the ground A leaf picked from a treetop is a very worthwhile souvenir of the flight!
How high do balloons fly?
Most balloonists enjoy low level flight. The typical balloon flight would be anywhere from tree level to about 3,000 feet above the ground.
How does the chase crew know where they are?
Radios are used to stay in contact with the chase crew as well as with Air Traffic Control and other aircraft flying in the vicinity.
Who can fly a balloon?
The Federal Aviation Administration issues a Balloon Pilot Certificate to candidates who pass an FAA written examination, obtain a prescribed number of hours in a balloon, make a solo flight to altitude, pass a flight test, and submit a medical statement.
How do you steer a balloon?
The balloon goes wherever the wind takes it. However, pilots can seek higher or lower altitudes to find wind currents of various directions. We refer to it as the truest form of sailing.
What are the best conditions for flight in a balloon?
A balloon flies better in cooler weather since the hot air gets a better "lift." Balloonists usually fly just after dawn or before dusk, because there is less wind at these times.
Is it cold in a balloon?
At high altitude, it is colder than at ground level, generally 3.5 degrees colder for each 1,000 feet of altitude.
What kind of cloth is the balloon made of?
The colorful envelope is usually made of nylon or polyester, the same type of cloth that parachutes are made of. It is very tightly woven and is coated with a material that makes it very air tight. The nylon is only used to keep the hot air in the balloon. The basket load is transferred by steel or Kevlar cables to a series of vertical load tapes which carry the load. Balloons range in size from about 54,000 cubic feet for a one- or two-person balloon to over 250,000 cubic feet for a balloon capable of carrying a pilot plus eight or ten passengers.
Why is the basket made of wicker?
The wicker basket has proven to be very strong for its weight and is flexible. The wicker is sometimes woven around a steel or aluminum frame, which helps to support the upright posts upon which the burner is mounted. The top rim of the basket and the uprights are usually padded and covered in suede or leather.
What is competition flying?
As in most sports there is a way that you can compete against other balloons in a test of skill. Ballooning is a little different in that it does not rely on speed like most other aircraft. Balloons travel at the same speed as the wind, therefore all balloons travel at approximately the same speed. If there was to be a competition based on airspeed alone, it would be a draw between all competitors.
It is still, however, not that simple. The target is usually identified by a large cross with 30 feet arms. Balloons are approximately 50 feet tall, 35 feet in diameter, and there can be up to 100 in a competition. Now basic math says it is impossible to fit that many balloons at a single target. Because of this, weighted streamers (markers) are used as a substitute for landing. These markers are thrown at the target from any height and the closest marker to the target wins that task. One flight can have up to 4 tasks, which means the pilots and their teams are working overtime to complete the flight with a good point score.
How do balloons compete?
Balloon pilots compete against each other based on accuracy. The object is to get the closest to a target set by a third party, in this case, the competition director. The closest to the target gets the most points and over several flights this leads to an overall winner.
If you can't steer a balloon, how accurate can you be? Balloons are amazingly agile aircraft for their size. Although you can't steer them in the conventional manner, you can "steer" them by using different wind directions at different altitudes. Wind direction in not exactly the same as you go up, sometimes there can be minor deviations in direction, at other times there is considerable "steerage" available for the pilot to use. Pilots ascertain this direction through a device called a "windreader" which uses a theodolite hooked to a computer to track the climb rate and direction change of a small helium filled balloon.
By using the different directions, top level pilots are amazingly accurate and it is not uncommon to have 20-30 pilots closer than 3 feet from the center of the target from distances as far as 5 miles away.
Learn More about Hot Air Ballooning...