In an effort to be as open as possible, the Carolina BalloonFest feels compelled to point out that while the general weather report for the weekend is very good, the wind forecast may present challenges for us in terms of balloon launches, especially on Friday and Saturday. Of course, wind and weather conditions can change rapidly. Carolina BalloonFest will do everything within our means to have as many scheduled launches as possible. However, our patrons must understand that we have no control over the weather and that the safety of our pilots, their passengers and our patrons is our primary concern.
if you look into a balloon basket you will notice something different from most any other form of transportation. They are missing a steering wheel.
Before any flight takes off you will usually see a simple helium balloon being released. Yes, it's just a regular balloon you may have at a kid's birthday party. If you take a look at the pilots and crew during this time, you will see them focus on it intently, some watching the direction and speed with their naked eyes, others taking measurements. They learn quite a few things from this exercise. They learn where their balloon is going to head as they launch it. They also notice where the wind changes direction at different altitudes and the speed at which it travels there. Even during that time they are thinking about where they are heading and where they may end up. Pilots steer by following the wind, and changing their altitude to change their direction.
Where they are headed is important, and sometimes even before the flight those familiar with the area are plotting where they may land. But even with the best plan, there is a strong element of chance. Mother Nature is ultimately in control. Winds direction can change quickly and a good pilot pays attention. From the time they begin a flight, they are thinking about their landing. It is the inevitable conclusion of every flight and the place they choose is important.
There are some factors that they especially look for. Many people think balloons only land at airports. The truth is an airport landing seldom happens. At Carolina BalloonFest, with the crowds and activities on the ground at the airport, you will only rarely see this occur. They usually land where they see a spot that fits their needs.
The pilot is looking for a place where they have the space to not only land, but space to take down the hot air balloon. Power lines are the enemy, so the pilots (and their chase crew and usually those flying with them) are always paying attention to where they may be. They need to make sure they can fly over them and still land and pack up the balloon safely. Large fields are ideal, but the pilot looks for those that are not planted so they don't disturb any crops. They also avoid livestock, which may be spooked by the noise and can get in the way of the balloon packup. Fields free of obstacles and debris are also preferable. The fabric in the envelope (the "balloon part") is tough but also can be fragile. They want to avoid holes and tears. They're also looking for access for their crew and chase vehicle....to be able to get to the balloon easily makes the retrieval process much easier.
But pilots don't need to land in a field. They may be able to land in your yard, on the road, in a parking lot, or on your cul de sac. They just need a little space and the amount they need depends on the size of the balloon and the preference of the pilot.
Because we have so many pilots in the Statesville area who have shown themselves to be respectful of our land and landowners, we have a lot of friendly and welcoming landowners. Many of our pilots have been coming to the area for years and they are usually greeted by friendly faces and hospitable hosts.
Many landowners in Statesville put out the white sheet welcome....if a pilot sees a white sheet from the air in a good landing spot, it is a sign that they are welcome to land there. This is much appreciated. Pilots try never to land on property without landowner permission, so a member of their crew may come knocking at your door to ask if it is OK to land (we apologize in advance for any early morning wake-ups!) Balloons in our area fly shortly after sunrise and several hours before sunset, when winds are most stable.
If you hear or see a balloon coming your way and they look like they may be looking to land, you can also yell up to them if it is safe and they are welcome. They can generally hear you. You can also point out any power lines or other hazards they need to avoid. You become part of their crew on the ground.
It's OK if you do not want balloons landing on your property. We understand that there are many reasons for this. Pilots get an area map that have "red zones".....areas they need to avoid in landing. Usually in our area this is due to livestock, but it may also be a landowner specifying in the past they do not want balloons landing on their property. Pilots are very respectful of red zones, and would only knowingly land on one if not landing there would put them and the people in their basket in danger.
We hope you are excited about greeting our pilots as they fly in our area during BalloonFest. Usually they will be flying out of the airport field, but sometimes....usually on Saturday and Sunday mornings....they may participate in a competition that has them driving a mile or so outside of the perimeter of the airport and attempting to fly over the airport field. If you live in that area and see them hovering around and have a good launch spot for them to use, invite them in.
You'll find most pilots and crews to be people lovers, who will enjoy meeting nice people like you. Please make them welcome. We're so proud of our county and its people and love hearing about the Southern hospitality with which most are greeted. You are the reason they want to come back to this area, year after year. Many pilots who attend a lot of festivals say this is their favorite. We believe our community and its love for balloons and balloonists is the reason.
It can be startling to see a balloon land if you don't expect it. Back in the early days of ballooning in France, when the first balloon pilots were landing, people were often terrified of these crazy contraptions hovering over their fields. Balloonists learned to carry a bottle of champagne as a gift to the landowner, so they would be seen as friends and not foes. Some pilots still end their flights with a champagne toast in memory of their predecessors.
As they take off, pilots know that without that steering wheel they may land anywhere. We hope each landing is a great experience for them and the landowners they meet. Welcome them to our area and let them know you are happy to have them. You are our hosts about town, and it wouldn't be the same without you.
Sponsored by Statesville Black Automotive Group! Thank you for lighting up our Saturday Evening...
We're quite proud of our Balloonmeister at Carolina BalloonFest. Sam Parks not only oversees all of the balloon pilots and crew and flying activities at our event, but will have just come off serving as Balloonmeister at the very large Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. That event begins tomorrow and as you can imagine, being responsible for the safe launches of over 500 balloons is a job reserved for the best of the best.
Sam puts that same expertise to work in Statesville. He heads up our local Flying Events Committee, which is comprised of local balloon pilots, crew, and enthusiasts who work to make sure the ballooning part of our festival is a great experience for pilots, crew, and our spectators.
Sam became involved in ballooning the way most pilots do....by serving as a member of a chase crew. These are the folks who help get the balloon inflated, then follow it to its landing spot where they help take it down and pack it up, We'll talk more about these folks in a later blog.
Sam and his wife Winna live in Statesville and own and operate Parks Heating & Air. Sam is not only a hot air balloon pilot, but flies gas balloons as well.
We'll try to keep an eye on Sam as he is at work at Fiesta, but until then here is a picture of Sam the pilot in his balloon, flying at a festival this past weekend in Madisonville, TN. Yes, he's been quite a busy man and will continue to be through the end if October. When you see him at Carolina BalloonFest, give him a smile and thank him for all he does for our community and for representing Statesville so well in the ballooning community around the world.
It's just about a month away and much activity has already gone on, is going on, and will go on to make this year's Carolina BalloonFest a success. As many of you know, this event is predominantly run by volunteers, who love hot air balloons, our community, and/or making money for our local charities. If you'd like to get involved, it's not too late....check out the link on our website.
It's definitely time for you to start planning if you are going to attend. Have you bought your tickets yet? We certainly recommend you do so in advance. Not only do early birds get the closest parking place (those without advance tickets must park at our satellite lots and take a bus in), but we've got a maximum capacity point. Once we reach that capacity, we can't let another body in.....even someone as charming as you. Our event regularly reaches capacity and now sells out regularly....so don't be left on the outside.
Do you want to take a ride? Our pilots are busy booking rides already. You can find their contact information and pictures of their balloons on our website. All balloons and pilots are not alike, so you'll want to find the one that is best for you. It's quite a thrill to ascend to the sky, surrounded by other balloons, and the crowd waving at you from below. Are you afraid of heights? A secret....many of our balloon pilots are, too. Look out instead of down, and we think you'll be just fine. Even with the hubbub of the festival, it's a peaceful time.
Rides this year are $250 per person. Yes, we know that is a lot of money. Why does it cost so much, you wonder? Well, let's see if we can explain. The pilots who are selling rides must not only have their private's pilot license (all of our pilots flying at this event must have that), but they also must be licensed as a commercial pilot. Both of these licenses require they spend many hours attending classroom sessions, taking hours of tests (written and oral), do training with other commercial pilots, and finally tested and reviewed by a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) examiner. Even after being licensed they must have their flying checked by other commercial pilots on a regular basis.
Then a pilot giving rides must have a balloon. A well maintained balloon, that passes an annual inspection. The cost of balloons varies, just as the cost of cars varies (from basic to super fancy). You can pretty much assume the cost of a car, if you are trying to figure out the cost of a balloon. Like cars, they also must have that balloon properly insured. They need propane to fuel it (provided at our festival by our sponsor Energy United). They need instruments to help them fly, and most also use iPads and other electronics to do everything from checking weather to checking out the local map (though some still use paper.) They need a vehicle to transport the balloon in, and to chase the balloon in flight so they can pick them up when they land. They need chase crew...and chase crews often need hydration and snacks. They need walkie talkies or other devices to communicate with their crews. Cell phones are also often used, even by the chase crew to track the balloon in flight. So, you can see....much is needed and required before they can give you that $250 flight. The smiles after the ride? Worth a million!
As for you, talk to your pilot before the flight and let them know of any limitations you may have. They may ask you some questions you may think are rather personal (like your weight!) The questions have a purpose.....they want to make sure their balloon is right for you and they feel equipped to be at their best as your pilot.
We almost always have a few proposals on flights at Carolina BalloonFest. Tell the pilot in advance, and they will do their best to help make it the experience of your dreams. We recommend you be pretty confident that they're going to say yes....or it can be quite an uncomfortable ride home. (Yes, our pilots have stories!) We also have had weddings both in the balloon (some of our pilots can even perform the ceremony) and on the ground, with the happy couple flying away afterwards. One great thing about ballooning....we get to see a lot of dreams come true.
For those who may be on a strict budget, or who want go test the waters before committing to a flight, tethered rides will be available (weather permitting). This is a great way to experience flight at a much lesser cost.
Until festival time, we'll try to give you some great tips and knowledge that will help you understand a bit more about ballooning, allow you to meet our pilots and staff, help you move from spectator to participant, and maybe even be entertained by a few tales from some of the most interesting people you will ever meet. We're excited about what's ahead.....and would love to share it with you,
On The Breeze ~
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