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Summer balloon delights spectators

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Mark Varsel

The Ellis County Press

The first annual Summer Balloon Classic was an overwhelming success with an estimated crowd of 10,000 attending Saturday evening’s balloon launching and "Lite the Nite" Balloon Glow, where pilots and crews gathered on the airfield to inflate their balloons and light the evening sky with a blast of propane providing illumination like many huge lanterns.

The event attracted numerous spectators for the morning mass ascensions which had as many as two dozen balloons in the skies between Midlothian and Waxahachie simultaneously. A large number of balloons took to the skies from the airfield while others launched from fields and pastures over two miles away to participate in a contest which pitted the fliers against one another as they searched for air currents that would guide their balloons over the airport.

Once within range, the pilots would toss a weighted bag at a target on the runway, with the pilot scoring the closest "hit" being the winner. Early Saturday morning, some pilots so skillfully navigated the air currents that they were able to lean out of their gondolas and gently release their bags only a few feet above the target, before ascending back into the skies.

Sunday was more problematic with light and variable winds, which resulted in some very dynamic balloon navigation. Some new balloon designs allow the pilots to descend very quickly, with their balloons swaying drastically from side to side, as they try to drop from high altitude to within 200 feet of the target. It’s a wild ride reminiscent of a toy balloon that has developed a large hole. Just short of the ground the pilot has to slow his balloon by igniting huge bursts of propane to heat the air in the balloon and slow his descent.

Without a doubt, the Energizer Battery balloon, a "special shape" balloon in the form of the "Energizer Bunny" was the biggest crowd pleaser. At well over 150 feet tall, the huge pink balloon towered ominously over everything else on the airfield. As the balloon was filled with hot air, the familiar shape of the rabbit became apparent, eventually lifting off and taking to the sky to the applause of onlookers, young and old alike.

The weekend event included numerous aerial attractions including skydivers, helicopters, the Commemorative Air Force, radio control aircraft and many other flying spectacles. NASA also showcased a new display focusing on man’s eventual return to the Moon. Visitors to the pavilion were invited to touch a moon rock retrieved on a previous moon expedition.

According to sponsors, with the success of this year’s event, it is anticipated that the Summer Balloon Classic will become an annual event in north Texas.

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