Hot air ballooning for human transport purposes dates back to November 21, 1783, when a silk and paper balloon rose above Paris carrying François Pilatre de Rozier and Fancois Laurent, Marquis d’Arlanders. It flew for about 25 minutes and traveled more than five miles, landing in an agricultural area outside of town, according to the National Balloon Museum and Ballooning Hall of Fame in Indianola, Iowa.
These inaugural aeronauts rode on a circular platform attached to the bottom of the balloon and fed the craft’s fire by hand through openings in its skirt. For the next 120 years, until the advent of airplanes, when people talked about flying, they meant riding in a hot air balloon. Even today, the basics of hot air ballooning have not changed much since those early days.
Of course, the same could be done for airplanes. How are the Piper Cub, Cessna 172 and Cirrus SR22T different from the 1903 Wright Flyer? Let’s save that debate for another day and just agree that whatever you fly would be worth landing at one of the airport-based balloon festivals on our list below. Or find one closer to home and give it a try. Pilots who fly sometimes get special treatment. Certainly the parking lot is better.
Arlington Municipal Airport (KAWO), Arlington, Washington
The balloons are part of an engaging three-day weekend in Arlington that begins with a fly-in campsite on Friday. Organizers encourage camping under the wing of your plane, and pilots don’t need to reserve a spot like conductors do – a nice bonus. The balloons fly Saturday after an air show that includes a B-17 Flying Fortress, a B-25 Mitchell and a P-51 Mustang. Sunday is the Airport’s Community Fun Day.
Battle Creek Field of Flight Air Show and Balloon Festival
June 30-July 4
Battle Creek Executive Airport (KBTL), Battle Creek, Michigan
Balloons are scheduled to take off and land each day of this aeronautical extravaganza. In between, there are a few other things you might like to see, like the US Air Force Thunderbirds, the US Navy’s F/A-18F Super Hornet “Rhino” Display Team, and two teams – one from the Air Force and one from the Navy – flying F-35 variants. Many additional acrobatic artists and skydivers complete a program.
Defiance Hot Air Balloon Festival
Defiance Municipal Airport (KDFI), Defiance, Ohio
This event is all about balloons, which should fly in the morning and evening. There is also a “still glow event” scheduled for the end of the night. Early risers are often rewarded at balloon events as the calm of dawn is ideal for launching and you can see lots of balloons in a fairly tight group. The gathering includes live music, plenty of food, a market, and a kids’ entertainment area.
hot air affair
Cameron Memorial Airport (KEZZ), Cameron, Missouri
The inspiration for Cameron’s first hot air balloon event is said to have come to organizer Denise Maddex in a dream. The program includes balloon competitions on both mornings with additional flights in the afternoon and evening. There is also live music, laser tag, inflatables, food trucks and lots of vendors. The Great American Kite Show will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and children will receive free kites to assemble while supplies last.
New Jersey Balloon Festival
Solberg Airport (N51), Whitehouse Station, New Jersey
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve attended this festival, which started in 1983. It’s famous for usually featuring at least 100 balloons launched together in morning and evening displays. Attendees can be part of the event by purchasing tickets to ride the hot air balloon during the mass flights. The festival is also known for its cuisine, which ranges from the expected burgers and sandwiches to Italian sausages and other international cuisines.
Wausau Balloon & Rib Fest Rally with Boomboxx
Downtown Wausau Airport (KAUW), Wausau, Wisconsin
Hot air balloons, music and good food have traditionally gone hand in hand for a long time, and this festival, now in its seventh year, is known for combining these elements in thoughtful ways. Rib lovers will likely find their ideal preparation among the many rib vendors provided on site. The music comes from Boombox, a Wisconsin institution, and fans say it’s not your run-of-the-mill cover band.