Balloon festival lifts off today in Greencastle, Pa.

July 30, 2010|By CHRIS COPLEY
  • Balloon festival organizers plan five balloon launchings during this weekend's Green Grove Gardens Balloon Festival east of Greencastle, Pa. The public can get up close to watch the balloons inflate and lift off.
Photo courtesy of Ron Broderick,


GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Attending an early-morning balloon launching is magical.

With the sky brightening, crews lay brightly colored ovals of cloth - the deflated balloons - on the ground. Large fans inflate the balloons with air, then gas heaters come on with a roar and shoot flame into the gasbags. The bubbles of air warm up and rise off the ground. Crews hold them down while pilot and passengers scramble into wicker baskets.

Then, with a wave, the ground crew releases ropes and the balloon lazily lifts off - a huge shape weighing hundreds of pounds rising impossibly into the blue sky.

With a field full of balloons lifting off one after the other, the experience is a delight.

That sense of delight is what David Robinson wants to bring to spectators this weekend at the first-ever balloon festival at Green Grove Gardens Center. The garden center is at 1032 Buchanan Trail East, east of Greencastle, Pa. Festival admission costs $10 per carload today and $15 per carload on Saturday, July 31, and Sunday, Aug. 1.


As balloonmeister for the festival, Robinson plans to have about a dozen balloons lift off at dusk Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and a dozen lift off at dawn Saturday and Sunday. Those who want a spot on a 30- to 60-minute-long untethered balloon ride should arrive early to get on a waiting list. Spectators may get up close and watch the launch at no cost other than festival admission.

Other activities at the festival include a petting zoo, helicopter rides, children's activities, vendors and musical performances by Mascaraid, Dimestore Profit, Booker Lee & the Country Fair and others.

Keith McCleaf, co-owner of Green Grove Gardens, said he wanted to make the festival fun for everyone.

"I have children and it's nice to have fun things in the area for everyone, from the youngest child to the oldest grandparent," he said. "This will be a fun family weekend."

Flying slow and low

Ballooning might look magical, but Robinson said balloons only work when conditions are right. Weather is one thing that must be right. Turbulent, warm air is rough air for balloons. Cool, gentle breezes are better.

"The biggest thing is people think if they get there at noon or 1, they'll see hot air balloons. That's not going to happen," he said. "Balloons fly at sunrise - 6 a.m. at this time of year - and just before sunset. When we hear a weatherman say 'light and variable winds,' that makes us happy," he said.

Another thing about ballooning is that people need to go with the flow. Robinson said a lot of people assume balloons can be steered. They can't. Balloons go where the air takes them.

"People see us and holler up 'Where you going to land?' I say, 'I don't know,'" he said. "We can go up and down, that's about it."

Different layers of air flow in different directions, he explained. So the pilot raises or lowers the balloon and tries to find an air layer going the way he wants to go. Balloons at the festival can fly as high as two and a half or three miles.

But flying high is not the best part of ballooning, Robinson said.

"The best part of balloons is you get to go low, maybe 1,000 feet off the ground," he said. "You can talk to people on the ground. You can see the deer. You can go slow. The other day we had a flock of geese fly under the balloon."

Learning to fly

A person can't simply buy a balloon and go up in the air, according to Ron Broderick, pilot of Dreamstar, a balloon based in West Friendship, Md. Would-be pilots must pass written tests on navigation, weather and balloon rules and regulations. And they must get flight time with an instructor.

"You have to have 10 hours of flight time with a licensed pilot. It is an aircraft," he said. "There's a tremendous amount of knowledge you need. You want a predictable outcome each time."

Commercial pilots - those who fly other people in their balloons - must pass additional tests and rack up 25 additional hours of flying time. Broderick earned his commercial license almost 20 years ago.

A pilot needs help getting a balloon prepped for flight. That's where a ground crew comes in, Broderick said.

"I'm going to bring two of my people. Some people at the festival might want to help get the balloon stretched out, filled and launched," he said.

Broderick admitted that balloon flight is not for everyone. About one in five people won't get near a balloon. They're scared.

"But the other 80 percent get in and they love it. They marvel at how calm it is, because you're traveling with the wind," he said. "Some people are afraid to look out a 10-story building, but they have no problem leaning over the basket at 2,000 feet."

If you go ...

WHAT: Green Grove Gardens Balloon Festival

WHEN: 5 p.m. to dark today; 9 a.m. to dark Saturday, July 31; and noon to dark Sunday, Aug. 1

WHERE: Green Grove Gardens, 1032 Buchanan Trail East, Greencastle, Pa.

COST: Admission costs $10 per carload today; $15 per carload on Saturday and Sunday; $10 for tethered balloon rides; $175 in untethered, 30- to 60-minute free balloon ride.

CONTACT: For information about the festival, call 717-597-0800.

MORE: The festival will also feature children's activities, live music, vendors and gardening demonstrations. Those interested in an untethered balloon ride should be at the grounds by 6 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.

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