MITCHELL — The first day of the Old West Balloon Fest took flight on Friday morning over Mitchell. As the sun crested the horizon, pilots and their crews made their way out to the Mitchell Airfield and unraveled seven stories of fabric for a exciting morning of flying.
Pilots and their crews arrived at the airfield shortly after 5 a.m. and attended a pilot’s meeting to discuss the rules of the hare and the hound race. Following the meeting, crews returned to their trucks and drove out onto the east field to set up their balloons. The balloon comes out of a large bag and the crew lays it out before securing it to the basket. Using a generator-powered fan, air goes into the balloon and begins to lift it off the ground. There were 30 balloons that launched Friday morning to a enjoyment of a crowd.
“I was excited to see all the balloons take off,” said Gunnar Copeland.
His favorite balloon is Humpty Dumpty.
“I’ve always been a fan because I’ve seen the cartoon,” he said.
Prior to launch, several pilots let a “pi” balloon go to track how the upper air was moving. Pi is short for pilot balloon. As the first balloon took to the sky, kids and adults looked up in awe as the racer balloons shortly followed.
The balloons glided up into the sky and headed north toward the town of Mitchell. A majority of the 30 balloons landed in a field to the west of Mitchell High School around 8 a.m.
“It was a really good day,” said Checkered Past pilot Clayton Crouch of Denver, Colorado. “We weren’t able to get to the second target, but it was a great day to fly.”
As the balloons headed north over Highway 26 and went around the old sugar factory in Mitchell, pilot Anthony Lard of Albuquerque, New Mexico, said the wind calmed causing pilots to land their balloons in a nearby field.
“When we came down low, originally, there was south winds, but when we got over the factory here, there was none of that,” said Lard. “I’m just hoping for good weather and being able to do it again. We had a super soft landing and anytime we have a landing like that, we definitely don’t take it for granted.”
Pilots will launch for the final day of the balloon fest on Saturday, August 18 around 6:15 a.m.. Afterward, Mitchell will host a craft fair on Center Street until 3 p.m. There will also be a night glow at Five Rocks Amphitheater from 7:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. Gates will open at 3 p.m. for the public to enjoy music, a kid zone, beer garden, food and merchandise vendors. The gates will close at 10 p.m.