If you’re in central Arkansas this weekend, don’t be surprised to see a bright burst of color in the sky. More than two dozen hot air balloons from all across the United States are participating in the Great War Memorial Balloon Race in Little Rock this weekend.
Early this morning, a group of pilots demonstrated their craft along Maumelle Boulevard. Our own Tim Schultz went along for the ride.
Tim and other journalists met the pilots near the Kroger in town. They were driven down to the police station, where the balloons were being prepared for flight. The lightweight fabric of the balloons was carefully rolled out and spread, the baskets prepared and the fires lit. Then off they went.
The sight of four hot air balloons taking off from a field and coasting along Maumelle Boulevard likely caused a little havok with traffic. Tim says there were people who stopped their cars and watched the majestic balloons ride over the thoroughfare.
He rode in a balloon marked EXPERIMENTAL. His pilot informed Tim that he’d made the balloon and kit himself, and was required to share that information.
Tim also says riding in a balloon is sort of like riding in a boat — if one person shifts, the other person or people in the balloon are going to feel that shift. The pilot told him that the direction of the balloon is determined by the distance the balloon is away from the ground — that is, there are shifting wind currents, and the wind blows different ways at different elevations. So if you’ve ever wondered how someone can go up in a balloon and determine where they’re going to land — now you know!
Tim also mentioned that when you come down, the balloon is still traveling laterally (moving in one direction over the ground) so that when you touch down the basket turns too. You combat that by leaning back in the opposite direction.
I have to admit, I am afraid of man-made heights… and I’m not sure I’d be able to get up the gumption to get up in one of those contraptions. But they are gorgeous and delightful, and I sure want to see more of them.
That’s why this is such a great weekend. The Great War Memorial Balloon Race begins this afternoon at four at, you guessed it, War Memorial. There will be a “glow” tonight, where the lit balloons will rise into the sunset… and another one tomorrow night, too. Saturday and Sunday morning there are flights and races, and there will be food and activities on the ground. If you’d like to have the experience of leaving the Earth behind as you soar in a hot air balloon, bring some money — it’s $20 a person for a flight, but oh what a memory. Check out the website for more information. And if you’d like to see video of the flight, you’ll find it on KARK’s Arkansas Matters website.