About 75 balloons lifted off the ground for a mass ascension the day we attended the National Balloon Classic in Indianola, Iowa.
We attended the 2010 International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM, so I set my expectations based on that experience. I didn’t know if I’d be impressed watching 75 balloons take off after having watched three to four times that many launch in Albuquerque.
Honestly, I had mixed feeling beforehand. I wanted to enjoy myself and take in a great event, but I also prepared myself for great disappointment.
Guess what? I was not disappointed. I had a great time at the NBC, and it reminded me how cool it is to see so many balloons in the sky at one time. Granted, it wasn’t Albuquerque, but, as analogies go, North Dakota football is not Nebraska football. I enjoyed watching the former Sioux play on the gridiron.
You have to embrace the moment. And I embraced this one. Lisa and I enjoyed ourselves, and have agreed we’d go again.
The day started early. We headed to the balloon field at about 5 a.m. Again, this was based on our New Mexico experience. We were at the balloon field then by that time, so we could have breakfast and check out the vendors and entertainment. The TV channels even did news and weather reports from the Fiesta at that time.
We were a bit surprised when we pulled in were the fifth car in the front row. I started getting a sinking feeling in my stomach that this was going to be a small-time event. Actually, we were about an hour earlier than most fans. Going forward, I’ll know I don’t need to be at the field until closer to 6 a.m.
It was an overcast and cloudy morning. A couple of ride along balloons were filling up on the launch field. Otherwise, there was no movement from the balloon captains to set up.
Once the large balloons launched, it was pretty quiet on the grounds. At about 6:30, the emcee announced the wind speed and said the crews were meeting with festival officials. Then, about 7 or so, it was announced that due to the wind speeds hitting the high end of the safe range, it was “pilot’s discretion” to fly. We figured that marked the end of the morning.
However, a few trucks headed off property to set up a few miles down the road. In the end, 10 balloons launched and took part in the morning challenge.
The flights through the clouds gave us a different perspective of the balloons than we’d seen before. They would disappear in the clouds, and then re-emerge. It was a cool sight.
One balloon – Da Bomb – “buzzed” the emcee’s tower. That was fun to see a balloon that close-up moving along.
We watched for a little while longer before heading into town for breakfast and some additional sightseeing. We looked forward to the evening’s mass ascension.
The mass ascension was planned to launch at 6:30 p.m. we made sure we were there in plenty of time. We arrived about 5:30, and the parking lot area was packed. This is what I had expected to see in the morning. I mentioned to Lisa that the evening’s event should be fun.
After listening to some welcome speeches and the pilots’ introductions, it was almost time to get the show on the road – or up in the air. An Iowa alternative country band played a set while the pilots met with event organizers.
We heard the emcee announce that we had a green flag, which meant we were flying Saturday night!!!!
The crews’ vehicles headed down to their designated areas and started laying out the balloons and baskets. As each one filled with hot air, the field was soon filled with balloons waiting for the word to lift off.
The first two balloons took off. They were the “rabbit” balloons. They were going to be chased by the rest of the crews.
As each balloon reached its lift capacity, they started rising above the rest. One launched. Then, a second. Soon, several balloons launched about the same time.
The sky soon filled with colorful dots. It was a beautiful site, colorful balloons against the blue sky with white clouds.
As they moved away from the field, the color soon turned to dark spots in the air.
The Classic had four special shape balloons – a monkey, peg-legged pirate parrot, purple people eater and a giant dog.
The monkey launched first. The Purple People Eater took off second. We saw these balloons at the Fiesta.
The peg-legged pirate parrot was a crowd favorite.
Unfortunately, Max (the dog-shaped balloon) did not lift off during our visit.
Besides the special shapes, we learned that oblong balloons are racing balloons.
The 9-day event proved a success. About 65,000 people attended, according to the Indianola Record-Herald.
Pilots came from 13 states to participate. The Classic’s champion was Matt Fenster, of Bellevue, NE. He is a local guy. He flies in both the Omaha and Council Bluffs areas.
We spent a weekend in the Des Moines and Indianola area. Next time, we may need to take a 3- or 4-day weekend and enjoy some more balloon festival.
For more information on the National Balloon Classic, please visit its website at http://www.nationalballoonclassic.com/.