Fields of Flight
By Chadd McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
During my childhood, I spent long summer days in Marysville, Ohio, catching bullfrogs at the pond, building forts in the woods, and riding my bike on the isolated gravel road by my house. These activities were a welcome break from the school year.
On lucky occasions, a rainstorm would flood a nearby field. For the next week, I’d splash around and throw mud balls in my own private pool. By August, I had caught and released so many bullfrogs that they’d learned to wait passively while I scooped them up in my net.
Balloons to the Rescue
As the dog days of summer hit, I was desperate to reconnect with friends I hadn’t seen since school ended. The All Ohio Balloon Rally came to my rescue. Founded in 1975, this event included dozens of hot air balloons and provided a party in the air and on the ground.
Each morning before sunrise, the balloons competed in a daybreak race. My family would target a balloon and chase it in our car. We sped down isolated country roads hoping to lend a hand when the balloon landed. I never knew if our chosen balloons won or not, but I do know we saw the most remarkable sunrises.
The party on the ground started after the balloon rally. In the late morning, I would bike to the festival to see my friends, watch an amazing airshow, and play at the arcade. For me, the first couple of hours involved finding my place in the new town teenage hierarchy. Having not seen my friends for three months, I did not recognize some of them, especially those who grew five inches or styled their hair with a 1980s perm.
Air and Arcade Attractions
Any awkwardness was broken by the thundering of three A-6 fighter jets doing a flyby to kick off an airshow. WWI era biplanes and triplanes performed a mock battle like one that might have involved the Red Baron. Huge WWII-era B-25 bombers flew low overhead to demonstrate their size. Most exciting and anxiety-provoking were the modern stunt pilots. They flew so close to the ground and each other, I don’t know how they avoided crashes.
No festival was complete without a stop at the arcade. The summer before my freshman year, my allowance increased to $4.25 per week. I resolved to save 1/8 of it each week to have enough to try the newest game, Centipede. Players reserved their spot in line by placing a quarter on the machine, hoping you got your coin on the board before the arrival of one of the experts who had been playing the game all summer. Even though I never spent more than five minutes in any one game, those moments were worth all the work I did saving my pocket change.
Up, Up, and Away
The All Ohio Balloon Fest has grown substantially since those early days. A regional attraction that received a new name in the mid-1990s, it now has something for every age, from Star-Wars-themed balloons to children’s bounce houses to live concerts. Even though the air show doesn’t perform anymore, adventurous customers can purchase tickets for helicopter and bi-wing plane rides.
Photo Credit: All Ohio Balloon Fest
The balloon launches take place every evening. At 6 PM daily during the festival, 20 balloons take to the skies. At 9 PM are the renowned balloon glows. While inflated and tethered to vehicles, the balloons’ propane burners light up simultaneously, creating a breathtaking scene. On Saturday night, patrons are allowed to visit the balloon pilots.
The event donates the net proceeds each year to a local nonprofit. According to Kevin Behrens, General Manager of the balloon festival, more than $100,000 has helped disadvantaged Ohio residents get back on their feet through the United Way and Hope Center of Union County.
Many thanks to Kevin Behrens, General Manager of the All Ohio Balloon Fest, for his contributions to this story.
Have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!
1. Hot air balloon owners must pay the pilot, pay for fuel, purchase the balloon, and travel to shows. Do an internet search to determine how much an owner should charge for a one-hour flight in order to make a profit. A one-hour flight typically uses 100 liters of propane.
2. The B-25 bomber was critical to US success during World War II. A fully loaded B-25 bomber could travel up to 1,250 miles on a single tank of fuel. Pilots preferred to return to base with at least 10% of their fuel remaining.
- How far from base can the B-25 bomber travel on 90% of a tank?
- If the bomber had a tailwind of 100 mph on the way to a mission, can it travel further from the base? About how long would it take to make the trip to the mission and back?
Social Justice Questions
- Over the past decade, The All Ohio Balloon Festival has donated a substantial portion of its proceeds to local charities. Do you think every local event should have the same responsibility? Which choice is better: (a) making a donation to local charities or (b) reducing the ticket price so more people can attend?
- Hot air balloons have an impact on the environment. On the one hand, propane has a lower carbon content than gasoline or coal. On the other hand, hot air balloons burn a significant amount of propane. For example, the average balloon uses 30 gallons to fly for one hour. Design changes are making hot air balloons more efficient but also more expensive. How should hot air balloon pilots respond to the ever-growing impact balloons have on the environment?
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