Florida Wing members encountered a new experience this month at Lakeland Linder Airport when they helped out during the Up, Up, and Away Balloon Festival at the Sun ‘n Fun campus at Lakeland Linder Airport.
Cadets and senior members assisted in setting up the hot-air balloons for glows at night and early morning race launches.
Setup includes filling the balloons with hot air, holding down the gondolas as the balloons fill, and handling the crown line, which helps keep control of the balloon as it’s inflated or deflated. Once a flight or glow concludes, the balloons are deflated and everything is packed away into trailers.
While balloons remain stationary for glows, launches are more involved. Balloonists and Florida Wing members had an early start, waking before sunrise to be on the airfield for the morning launches. They pulled the balloons from large bags, spread them downfield for several yards, and assisted the balloon pilots with other tasks in inflating the balloons and preparing them for launch.
One after another, the balloons inflated with the use of large fans. Soon after, blasts of fire from the burners lit up the morning sky, and suddenly a field full of colorful, inflated hot air balloons ready to launch for the race.
After the launch of the first balloon, known as the “hare,” many minutes passed as the race participants or “hounds” waited for clear signal to launch. Once the signal is given, balloon after balloon lifted from the ground and into the air, each heading for the target balloon.
Rather than a test of speed, a balloon race follows the “hare and hound” format. After the “hare” lands, a large “X is placed as a target on the ground next to it. The “hounds” try to follow the first balloon as closely as they can, and the balloon pilot who drops a bean bag closest to the target’s center wins the race.
Once the balloons have floated away toward the target, the launch team turns into a chase team that must track and follow their assigned balloon to where it lands. It’s then deflated, packed, and loaded into the transport trailer.
Most of the balloons landed in subdivisions and parking lots, with only a few finding open fields in the suburbs of Lakeland. Neighborhood residents were delighted by colorful balloons’ landing in their front yards and driveways.
“It’s amazing just how incredible it is – early morning, the balloons going up, seeing all the colors, the light’s perfect,” said Capt. James Chamberland. Florida Wing Group 3 commander and activity director for the festival. “It’s just a great experience, and I hope everyone had a wonderful time.”
In addition to the balloon glow and launches, wing members also toured the Florida Air Museum on the Sun ‘n Fun campus and enjoyed live music during the event. Cadets became better acquainted through a variety of team-building exercises and leadership scenarios during activity breaks.
“This was a great activity for our cadet and senior members to experience an aspect of aviation in which many people don’t have an opportunity to actively participate,” Maj. Sybrian Castleman, Florida Wing public affairs officer, said as members were taking down tents, cleaning the campsite, and visiting with parents arriving to pick up cadets.
2nd Lt. Davina Hovanec
Merritt Island Senior Squadron