Up in the Air hot air balloon rally to return for eighth year

Last Updated by Chip Chandler on
Up in the Air for Family Care Balloon Rally is Friday through Sunday.
Photo by Chip Chandler

By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer

Three new shaped balloons will make their debut at the eighth annual Up in the Air for Family Care Balloon Rally.

This year's rally will stretch from Friday through Sunday, generally at John Stiff Memorial Park, 4800 S. Bell St.

Hot air balloons will inflate and (weather permitting) launch around 7:30 a.m. Friday at several Amarillo schools: San Jacinto Elementary School, 3400 W. Fourth Ave.; Belmar Elementary School, 6342 Adirondack Trail; Forest Hill Elementary School, 3515 E. Amarillo Blvd.; South Georgia Elementary School, 5018 Susan Drive; Lakeview Elementary School, 6407 Lair Road; Windsor Elementary School, 6700 Hyde Parkway; and Ascension Academy, 9301 Ascension Parkway, as well as Happy State Bank, 5100 S. Coulter St.

The main action begins with a launch from 7 to 9 a.m. Saturday at John Stiff Park. Breakfast vendors, coffee, hot chocolate and breakfast burritos will be available.

balloon festival will run from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at the park, featuring live music from Noah Jenda, The Prairie Dogs and Comanche Moon; food and merchandise vendors; bounce houses; and more. Onsite parking is available along 45th Avenue on the north side of the park. Balloons will glow around sunset.

The event will close with a balloon glow and launch from 7:30 to 9 a.m. Sunday at the park, also featuring breakfast vendors, coffee, hot chocolate and breakfast burritos.

This year's rally will feature Joelly the Baby Bee, piloted by Michael Glen, the world's first paraplegic hot air balloon pilot; Annie the Ladybug; Spyderpig; Ham-let; and three new shaped balloons: Yellow Bird, Puddy Cat and The Lovebirds. Several regular hot air balloons also will participate.

Admission is free for all events. Donations will benefit the Family Care Foundation, which assists those in financial need during a one-time medical emergency. Call 806-622-9473.

Before last year's rally, I got to fly with pilot Buzz Wills of Amarillo's Blacksheep Squadron.

We took off after dawn at Sundown Lane Elementary School, with Welcome Pardner's D.J. Stubben joining us in the basket. It was my first time to ride in a balloon with a basket, though I had previously ridden with Glen in his special bench balloon.

Wills didn't take us up too high, maybe a couple of hundred feet at most. Mostly, we skimmed just above the ground from the school to a spot just north of Texas Loop 335 near Georgia Street.

It was a lovely flight — peaceful and serene except for the moment when we hit a dead patch and immediately sank to the ground. But the basket bounced right back up and we completed our flight without incident. I don't even think I cussed.

Here's a few photos from my flight:

Pilot Buzz Wills and his crew prepare for launch.
Photo by Chip Chandler

The jet fires in anticipation of the launch.
Photo by Chip Chandler

As the balloon takes off, children from Sundown Lane Elementary School wave goodbye.
Photo by Chip Chandler

Pilot Buzz Wills looks over the pastures near Sundown Lane Elementary.
Photo by Chip Chandler

The balloon's silhouette as seen from above
Photo by Chip Chandler

Sundown Lane Elementary School students are just specks as we fly north.
Photo by Chip Chandler




Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.

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