Saturday was the official opening of the Balloon Fiesta. We headed over to the launch field to meet at the appointed time of 6:15. There are shuttles, but they were running late or full, I'm not sure which , but we ended up walking to the field, panicked because we thought we would be late. The traffic was grid locked and the crowds massive.. More on the traffic, parking, and transportation issues in another post.
"Dawn Patrol" starts at 6:00 which means many crew members have to be at the launching point by 5:30 or so. Fortunately, our Pilot is not part of the Dawn Patrol so we didn't have to be on the field until 6:15. However, the balloon he will be flying is a "Special Shape" called Keystone Willy. Keystone Willy is huge and takes a more time to roll out and inflate and more time to pack up. Keep reading for photos of Keystone Willy.
The pilots receive their briefing at 6:15 and we wait and watch the "Morning Glow" which is spectacular. It starts about 6:30 when it is still dark. (Sunrise is 7:05 or there abouts)The balloons fire up in unison and "glow" in the dark.
The Mass Ascension, is just that. All the balloons go up about about the same time. However, on Saturday the balloons go up in two waives. There are around 500 registered balloons We were second wave, mainly because our balloon, Keystone Willy is so big and other balloons need to clear the field before inflation starts.
The truck with the fan, balloon, and basket.
The balloon is rolled out.
The mustache alone is 50 feet across. The weather on Saturday and Sunday was a little "iffy". Clouds threatened rain and the wind was kicking up slightly on Saturday and on Sunday, there was no wind initially, and light rain sprinkles. If the wind speeds are more than six mph the pilots generally won't fly. If there is no wind, or the wind headings are the wrong direction they won't launch. Anyway, lift off times were delayed slightly (we didn't need to stress about being late) until the officials declared it safe to fly on both Saturday on Sunday.
Once up in the air the "chase" begins. We all load up in the chase truck (most in the pickup bed) and keep an eye out for Willy. Our driver is communicating with the pilot the whole time and the pilot is narrating where he is and where he is going to put down. On Sunday we actually lost site of Willy when he landed and radio communication wasn't working well and he landed on a road on the other side the park. We drove through neighborhoods giving a high speed chase trying to get back to the road and park where Willy landed. On the way, I held on for dear life with one had while snapping pictures with the other.
Once the crew arrives and the landing site, the hard work starts. First the balloon is allowed to deflate and lays on the ground.
Then all of the air has to be massaged out so the balloon can be tied up.
No, the crew is not laying down on the job.
The basket is put in the truck and then the balloon is rolled onto the tailgate lift and positioned on the truck for the next flight. The whole packing up process, if all goes smoothly, doesn't take more than 30-45 minutes.
Tomorrow competition begins and pending weather, Keystone Willy will be flying every day. The days have been busy, but fun. There is much, much more to come.