Around the town in 30 minutes via hot air balloon

May 24, 2006|by ROBERT SNYDER


Bob Thomas pressed a lever that released a burst of propane fuel into the base of the giant balloon filled with 140,000 cubic feet of air. The small woven basket carrying six journalists and a lawyer then lifted effortlessly and went airborne.

Within moments, the rush of tractor-trailers along Interstate 81 came into view, followed by the rooftops of the buildings of downtown Martinsburg. In an instant, the whole of the upper Shenandoah Valley opened up below as the balloon soared to 1,000 feet into the evening sky over Berkeley County.

Part of a media event to promote the upcoming Spirit of America over Martinsburg Balloon Festival, the demonstration lasted about 30 minutes, with the balloon drifting from its launching point at the Martinsburg Mall toward Jefferson County before alighting in a field behind W.Va. 9 not far from Opequon Creek.


Thomas said Mother Nature does much of the steering once a balloon is airborne, which happens when the air on the inside is heated to a warmer temperature than the air on the outside.

"It's the displacement factor that gives you your lift," said Thomas, adding the air at the top of a balloon gets as hot as 250 degrees when heated by the propane gas from the five 10-gallon tanks strapped into the basket.

Thomas, who owns and operates Balloons Unlimited and has been flying balloons for 30 years, calls a ride in a hot air balloon like going aloft on a magic carpet and much different than strapping in for an airplane ride.

"It's a totally different perspective," Thomas said. "In an airplane, you're passing the world by at a high rate of speed. In a balloon, you see the world rather than pass it by."

The show, which is scheduled Aug. 4-6 at Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport in Martinsburg, is scheduled to feature as many as 30 balloons, said festival organizer Nic Diehl.

Tickets for the show will cost $5 in advance and $7 at the gate with children younger than 10 admitted free. Parking will cost $3.

Tickets will be available through the United Way of the Eastern Panhandle throughout June, with $2 from the sale of each ticket being donated to the United Way or its agencies, Diehl said.

The festival will include balloon, airplane and helicopter rides, as well as an appearance by the Chambersburg Skydiving Team, which will perform at the start of each show Saturday and Sunday.

More information about the upsoming show is available at

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