Winds carry balloons over Mitchell at speeds over 20 mph

August 19, 2018

As the clear night sky gave way to the pink and yellow glow of the sunrise, balloon crews made their way back out to the Mitchell Air Field for the second day of the Old West Balloon Fest.

Following the launch of the Spirit of ’76 balloon, piloted by Jason Gabriel, and the singing of the National Anthem, crews began inflating their balloons despite the wind. Several of the racer balloons were up early as the pilots searched for three targets in the Hare and Hounds competition. Within 30 minutes, 16 of the 29 balloons at the air field were in the air. Most of the larger balloons were unable to go up Saturday morning as winds made for difficult flying conditions. The balloons headed north/northwest over Mitchell, with most remaining in the air for around 30 minutes.

“I was the very first balloon off the field during the National Anthem, actually,” said the Spirit of ’76 balloon pilot Jason Gabriel, of Colorado Springs, Colorado. “It was definitely faster this morning than it was yesterday. It’s not unusual in the valley to have days that are slower and faster.”

Volunteers for the Old West Balloon Fest estimate somewhere between 16 to 19 balloons made it into the air, with several pilots reporting high wind landings.

“The wind is pushing on the envelope of the balloon, so it actually tips over the basket,” said pilot Patricia Newlin, who was unable to fly the Cloud Kisser II balloon.

“Some pilots said they drug their baskets 30 to 50 feet.”

In such conditions, the potential for injury and damage to the balloon can be high.

As the evening approached, the pilots headed to the Five Rocks Amphitheater in Gering for the night glow. Unfortunately, high winds again prevented the pilots from flying their balloons. They were also tracking a storm heading from Wyoming into the area, so they could move the baskets inside, should it start raining. Since the candlesticks are made of medal, water can cause rust to form and enter the fuel lines. Instead, the pilots welcomed the public into the baskets to push the candlestick lever. One of those people was a younger girl, Dalainee Eakin of Austin, Texas. She said the experience was fun and that she would do it again.

The next balloon event for the area will bring together the Old West Balloon Fest and the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship. For the next three years, those events will occur in August. lauren.brant@starherald.com

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