Old West Balloon Fest organizers expect nearly 75 hot air balloons to take flight at Mitchell Air Field during the Old West Balloon Fest in August.
Old West Balloon Fest manager Colleen Johnson said the aim was to attract around 90 balloonists, but high fuel prices have caused pilots to reduce the number of events they attend.
“We were hoping to have over 90 this year, but we have several riders who can’t afford gas,” Johnson said. “Most of these drivers use diesel trucks and when you tow a trailer with a diesel truck, it gets expensive.”
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Pilots from the US National Hot Air Balloon Championship will also return to the valley in August, performing numerous tasks. The pilots will arrive for practice flights on Monday August 8, with the first day of competition set for August 9.
National pilots will compete from August 9 to 13 in the morning and evening flights, weather permitting. Public viewing locations will be communicated during the event. The public will also be able to see the national pilots on Friday and Saturday during the OWBF mass ascent as targets will be set up at Mitchell Air Field.
Although this year is the last year for the locally held national championships, Johnson said several competitive drivers have expressed interest in returning for the OWBF.
“A lot of them want to come back next year,” she said. “They like to fly in the area, so we will still have many of these pilots planning to attend our event next year.”
The OWBF festivities kick off Wednesday, August 10 with a Night Glow at Western Nebraska Community College in Scottsbluff. The event is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Spectators will need a pass to park at the WNCC this year. In previous years, it was not necessary to have a pass to park on campus.
The hot air balloon festival will end on Saturday August 13 with the Night Glow on the grass at the Five Rocks Amphitheater in Gering. The glow is scheduled from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. The glows will take place at sunset.
“The balloon glows are nice because they’re more laid back,” Johnson said. “There are a lot of people who can’t make it to the morning launches, so they can enjoy walking around and talking to pilots overnight.”
The public has the opportunity to meet the pilots and collect balloon cards, while looking closely at the baskets, candlesticks and envelopes on these evenings.
The Flyover Brewery will be selling food and drink at Gering’s night event.
The mass ascension for the hot air balloon festival will take place on August 12 and 13. The aerodrome opens at 5:30 a.m.
As the public strolls through Mitchell Airfield leading up to the mass ascension, Johnson encourages people to maintain a safe distance from baskets and wraps.
“They have to stay away from the fan; they have to stay a bit behind,” she said. “They can stand behind the balloon basket, but they have to stay behind for the morning launches.
“For the night glows, they can go up to the pilots and talk to them.”
The public is encouraged to stay at Mitchell Airfield on Friday August 12 and Saturday August 13 after the mass ascent to watch the National pilots perform their duties at the airfield.
“They’ll be throwing bags at X on this field, so you can watch the mass ascension and then the competition at Mitchell Air Field,” she said.
In addition to being spectators during the five days of events, the public can sign up as volunteers to help the pilots’ crew, to help with parking or to help with the craft fair.
“We need volunteers to help the pilots, but we also have a lot of administrative work to do,” Johnson said. “People think they can’t volunteer because they can’t do physical activities like you have to do with pilots.”
Another volunteer opportunity available to the public is to help at the score sites for the competition balls.
“You have to be able to walk a bit because you have to measure the distance the markers fall,” Johnson said. “It’s great fun to be where the balloon pilots score because you can see how they’re doing on each target.”
This year’s Volunteer Appreciation BBQ will be held at the Scottsbluff Riverside Discovery Center on Monday August 8th.
After Saturday’s climb, the public can enjoy a craft fair on Mitchell’s Center Street from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The second annual cornhole tournament will start at 10 a.m. and the Weiner dog races will start at 11 a.m. .
“Saturday is a full fun day with the mass climb followed by the craft fair and cornhole tournament – where you can win cash – Weiner dog races and then the night glow is that night “, she said.
Traders will be present at all events. Anyone interested in becoming a supplier can complete an online form.
Passes for OWBF 2022 are $20. Packages purchased before the end of July will be sent by post. The public can also visit Pinnacle Bank, Platte Valley Bank and First National Bank of Omaha to purchase tickets, starting July 18.
Visit theoldwestballoonfest.com to purchase tickets, register as a volunteer and for more information on this year’s events.