The Great Texas Balloon Race

July 30-31, 2010

Editor's Note: The images available from this event were very limited and are presented here for the completeness of flight documentation.

The Great Texas Balloon race is an annual event that has been taking place in Longview Texas since the late 1970's. The event was founded by Dr. Bill Bussey, a world-record hot air balloon pilot who lives in the area, and began as a promotion for the Longview Mall. Since that time, the event has hosted the United States National Championship hot-air balloon competition for four years, and is also home to the Texas State Championship.

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In 2010 I was honored to be invited to fly at the Great Texas Balloon race. My crew chiefs Larry Vandenberg and Brian Shafer joined me in Longview to help with the flights. When I arrived, I was bemused to find my picture on posters for the event, such as this one in the window of a convenience store.

I was scheduled to do two flights at the event, with the flights taking place Friday and Saturday afternoon.

Texas at the end of July is very hot. VERY HOT. And also humid. My youth group volunteers did a heroic job inflating the balloons in the heat. It was also a bit windier than was ideal, making the task more difficult.

We lost several balloons to spontaneous bursting, which was unusual and probably due to the heat.

Crew attached the balloons into the cluster and I got into my harness. Bill Bussey dropped by to wish me luck.

And off I went.

I flew out over the airport and off into the countryside. The main part of the city of Longview was some ten miles to the north, but the wind was taking me more to the northeast, an area of woods, small lakes and gated property owned by the Eastman Chemical company. I had been told this was not a great place for crew to find your balloon, but the wind was brisk and I rapidly flew past the areas around the airport where landing was possible. I tried my luck at different altitudes, but still found myself going to the northeast over the trees. I talked on the radio with Larry and Brian, who were driving around the woods on a variety of roads that ended in gated deadends. The sun was getting low by then, and I found myself headed toward a small lake in the woods. I burst some balloons to drop in low over the lake, and landed on the swampy shore. The lake was very beautiful at twilight, although I was distracted by a variety of insects that emerged to feast on my legs. Crew found their way to me about 45 minutes later.

The next afternoon, insect-bitten but otherwise intact, I was back on the field, ready to fly again. It was still VERY HOT, but there was a bit less wind, which made the inflation a bit easier. I got into my harness and got ready to go. And I was off...

I flew out over the festival grounds.

Bill Adler launched in his one-person hot air balloon and was flying along with me.

I flew out over the area beyond the airport.

Luckly, the winds were also a bit slower than the day before, and the direction was a bit better. Also, I was heavily motivated not to end up in the swamp again, even at the expense of a shorter flight. I flew over some industrial sites and some residential areas between them. Larry and Brian were able to stay relatively close on the roads below. Finally, I set down neatly in someone's back yard.

Bill Adler landed his balloon nearby, and we go him to go up on tether with the cluster. Then we headed back at dusk to the festival grounds.

Celebration LXII/LXIII

Crew Chiefs: Larry Vandenberg, Brian Shafer

Special Thanks to: Dr. Bill Bussey, The Great Texas Balloon Race

Photography: Bill Adler, Shutterstock, John Ninomiya