It’s a little after 4:30 a.m. when I wake up. I’m tired, but have to be across town by 7, and I believe sleeping more I will feel more tired than if I don’t. Yesterday I was up at this hour, too. Two days of maybe four hours of sleep. But this is my hobby, and for the balloonists in my town, and a lot from out-of-town, we wait for this every year. This is Carolina BalloonFest.
Now don’t get the idea that I enjoy early mornings. I never consider it pleasure to have to be somewhere early in the morning. Getting up earlier than I have to is better than waiting until the last minute. Maybe by time I leave home at 6:30, my body will be tolerant and I will be able to talk to people. As an introvert, I need to try to find a bit of alone time. Having grown up in a big family, though, I can pull myself back a bit and find peace when the world is busy around me.
Balloons launch early in the morning….right after sunrise and right before sunset. There is a short window of time when winds are stable enough to fly.
Bad weather is supposed to hit us at some point over the weekend. Each flight we watch and wait. Wind and rain are not our friends. The general public usually understands rain….but winds are even more treacherous, and that is when there is an outcry. They often can’t see that with the naked eye….and it feels fine to them. Conditions can change quickly…and we are cautious. Lives are at stake when we are not. Safety is the most important word of the day….even if we disappoint legions.
But yesterday was beautiful, I organize our Friday morning media flight (with much expert help) and that’s my favorite thing to do. I am not confined to have them fly on the field where our festival is held…. at our local airport. I have balloons flying all over town….and over the two interstates that flow through our city. It is a sight to behold. (Some flew out of the airport, too.)
Some of our pilots were at a business with a large lawn that allows them to get good visibility wherever the wind takes them. This business is gracious to let many balloons launch from their site. My town has many businesses and individuals that are hospitable to our balloons like this.
I drove around town yesterday morning with a smile on my face. My friend Drew, who is an amazing competitor (yes, we have competitions in ballooning), picked the perfect launch sites to get balloons flying over our downtown. The pilots chosen for that made it happen. I just drove around, balloon spotting. No, it never gets old. I am still like a kid.
Later in the morning morning and for the rest of the day I registered pilots for our event, along with a team of our staff and one from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration.) Yes, they are involved. Balloons are aircraft and 50+ aircraft launching at one time is something they are concerned about. We, too, are regulated by them. But their goals match ours….safe flying….and the records of each pilot and balloon are inspected to make sure they are up-to-date on all requirements and safe.
Then last night. We flew our corporate sponsors and then ended the night with a balloon glow. There wasn’t much wind, so the balloons hovered over the field for a long time. Not the most fun for all the pilots, but a joy for the crowd watching and many of the people riding with them.
So this morning I will head over and hope conditions are right for a flight….and for competitions to begin. I’ll probably help with scoring, if needed…and cheer them all on from below. Because even though I have favorite pilots who I would love to see win, great competitive flying is most appreciated. It’s an individual sport, but still many of the competitors work together as loose teams (in other places there are actual team competitions.) They want to win, but know that they have a better shot if they help each other. And if you can’t win, knowing you helped the winner can be satisfying.
Whatever happens ahead it will be a good day. It’s a family reunion. And while nothing is wanted more than lots of good flying, the nature of the sport means we spend a lot of time waiting for conditions to be flyable. So as we say, soft landings to you….whatever you may be doing this morning.