More than 50 pilots from around the globe filled the sky above Statesville with a colorful parade of hot air balloons during the third weekend in October.
With thousands of spectators attending the 42nd Annual Carolina BalloonFest, the balloons launched from the Statesville Regional Airport – once on Friday and twice on Saturday and Sunday – with chase vehicles pursuing.
On Saturday afternoon, the crowd was becoming anxious as the 4 p.m. launch window began with a red flag flying from the pole where the pilot meeting was held, signaling that winds were too strong to launch.
A brisk wind had been blowing all day and the pilots were checking the speeds while children blew bubbles, played in the kid zone and grabbed a bite to eat.
“I came last year, and they didn’t get to launch; I am hoping that doesn’t happen again,” said Winston-Salem resident Victoria Byrd. After one hour with no one setting up their balloons, it was looking doubtful, but the winds were slowing.
Just as the window of opportunity was about to pass, the blast of an air horn sounded and the green flag was raised to the cheers of the crowd. Statesville resident Duncan Dunavent, 14, hurried to help Sally Lidinsky, of New Jersey, unpack her balloon.
“I’ve been volunteering for four years; it is fun to be a crew member,” said Duncan. As more volunteers came forward to help control the filling envelope – the inflatable part of the balloon – the two prepared it for flight.
The whoosh of the burners drowned out conversation as pilots yelled instructions to their crews.
Among the balloons and crew members scurrying about to get airborne were photographers of all levels, trying to get a perfect shot.
Each time a balloon got full enough to launch, the crowd erupted into applause and cheers as it rose upward. Moments after the launch, each balloon would disappear over the horizon as another would hurry skyward to join them.