On Saturday, July 25th, Karen and I got up before daylight to be present for the morning flights of the Great Texas Balloon Race 2015. Considering the hot Texas summer days we have been having, the nice cool morning was a pleasant change and well worth the extra effort.
We started the day at the East Texas Regional Airport for the morning competition. This was to be a test of accuracy for the pilots with three targets. There were two streamers that had to be dropped/thrown from the balloon into two separate targets. And then each balloon had a small hoop that the pilot attempted to get around a tall pole in the middle of the field. There was a $5000 prize which was to be split between the pilots who were able to accomplish this feat. The fewer pilots that could get the ring on the pole, the larger each individual prize.
As the first balloons started to arrive, we were welcomed with a parade of color as they soon filled the sky. I have never seen so many balloons at one time in my life.
We had picked out great seats. Thanks to the direction of the wind, the balloons traveled a path that brought them directly over our heads. Further, thanks to the rather slow speed of the wind, it made for some great shots. The 100-400mm lens came in handy for some personal shots of the pilots, showing their faces as they tried for each target.
There were so many colors and designs that one could almost become dizzy looking at all of them. Stars, wavy patterns, lines, circles, diamonds, plaid. The plethora of geometric patterns gave each balloon its own unique style.
Here is a shot where you can see the determination on the face of the pilot as he wound up for his toss towards the target. Being my first balloon race, I was unfamiliar with the pilots and rules, but it was fun watching and learning as we went. As an aside note, this particular balloon was sponsored by my wife’s employer, Martin LP Gas out of Kilgore, TX.
As the morning continued, it seemed that the steady flow of balloons would never stop. They just kept appearing over the horizon. Each one showing different colors and designs. While some were plain, others were completely unique, yet none were boring.
This one had a design of a great dragon. No doubt this was intended to cast fear into the hearts of all competitors. I don’t know if it worked, but it was a truly impressive design. In fact, as the balloon got close, the pilot was good enough to spin the balloon so we were able to see the entire beast.
A couple of times, the balloons got pretty close to each other. No doubt the slowness of the wind helped alleviate danger of any collisions as the balloons seems to just push each other out of the way when they did get into close proximity of each other.
Some pilots appeared to have a very laid back style throwing towards the targets. This guy seemed very relaxed and confident as he aimed and let his device fly.
Others seemed unaffected by the height as they leaned out of their basket to engage the target. I guess it takes a certain amount of the “no fear” attitude to pilot an air ship which has such a small amount of directional control.
Having just recently moved to the country, I really enjoyed the farm theme of this balloon. Complete with a barn, pond, and a person reading a book under a tree, this serene scene was one of my favorites.
Another amazing thing was the use of open flames, even when in such close proximity of another balloon. I’m sure the cooler morning air made for a more comfortable experience for the pilots than would have been found later in the day as the temperature reached the high 90s.
Remember the ring and pole challenge? This pilot did and he was the only one who hit the target on this day! You can see the excitement in his face after realizing that he had hit the target!
As the morning event came to a close and we headed back to our car, you could still see the balloons fill the sky as they continued on to the opposite horizon. Where they landed I have no idea, but they were back for the evening festivities later in the day.
When we came back for the evening activities, the sun began to make its way lower in the sky. Karen was able to capture this shot of one of the balloons being back-lit by the diving sun.
Meanwhile, the special shape balloons were beginning to take shape for display. The evening events were much like a fair, with some rides for the kids and of course all sorts of food and other booths. This evening was also attended by a performance of the Oak Ridge Boys.
I noticed the Wells Fargo Wagon balloon team as they were unloading their balloon and decided to spend some time with them to find out more about what they do. It was quite interesting and I learned a few things. For instance, the green sleeves they are wearing in this picture is to protect their arms from the flames. Even with those on however, I’m still sure I could smell melting hair as they were adding the hot air to the balloon!
While I was with that team, Karen was getting some other shots, such as this shot of the astronaut balloon with the moon in the background. Very cool!
The highlight of the night was the balloon glow. That’s when the balloons are all anchored to the ground and at the countdown, they all fire their thrusters (is that even the right term?) and illuminate their balloon. It made quite a site with this field full of these giant light bulbs! Once again you can see all the different patterns and graphic designs of the balloons. I can only imagine that the uniqueness of each balloon is mirrored by the uniqueness of the pilots.
So, that was my first balloon festival. What can I say other than I look forward to my next.
See you at the Great Texas Balloon Race in 2016!