Festival showcases beautiful balloons

The Hot Air Balloon Festival attracts all kinds of people and is an event you should mark on your calendar for next year. Photo by Anthony Garnier.

As Owl City says, “I’ll be out of my mind and you’ll be out of ideas pretty soon / So let’s spend the afternoon in a cold hot air balloon.”

One of the traditional festivals that takes place around the Dallas area every year is the Hot Air Balloon Festival.

Hot air balloons are in a sense antiques of a bygone age, far more primitive than today’s fighter jets.

However, they never fail to capture the imagination of romantics and physics buffs alike.

At the Hot Air Balloon Festival in Plano, Texas, a wide array of balloons (45 to be exact) are filled with air and rise above the crowds in the daytime, and at night are set aglow.

Performances by local bands, a large array of booths, a kid’s Fun Zone and fireworks complete the picture.

Within the booths, there are both standard-issue festival offerings such as funnel cake and lemonade, and the typical Texan fried-everything-and-anything booth.

Then there are the mattress, shower and massage chair booths, which might incite a giggle or two.

If you are really looking for something different, the Live Bug stand might satisfy your thirst for a quirk.

If you can stomach the propaganda, you might as well register to vote at the Young Democrats stand while you’re at it.

Of course, the real attraction at the fair is the sight of the massive colorful globes against the sky. What exactly goes into building one of these things?

The balloon portion of a hot air balloon is actually referred to as an envelope.

Each envelope is made out of nylon similar to the fabric used in backpacks or tents, and are made out of various panels of the fabric sewn together.

When you observe a hot air balloon, you will see that it is made of many of these vertical sections, or gores.

The baskets can be made out of fiberglass, aluminum or wicker.

Surprisingly, wicker is desirable not just for the classic look of a hot-air balloon, but also because the wicker absorbs more shock on a rough landing than fiberglass or aluminum.

The heart of a hot air balloon is the burner.

The burner in an air balloon’s apparatus vaporizes liquid propane, and the festival’s official website describes the rest.

“The pilot light ignites the vapor, sending a six-to eight-foot flame into the envelope, making a loud whooshing sound and adding heat at the rate of 12 million BTU’s (British Thermal Units) per hour,” the website says. “To give a better idea of the tremendous output of a burner system in a hot air balloon, one burner produces at a rate per hour that would be enough to heat 120 three bedroom homes comfortably.”

During the Balloon Glow event of the Hot Air Balloon festival, the pilots of the hot air balloons coordinated their burners so that the balloons filled with air one by one.

Whenever a burner was turned on, it lit the balloon from within, turning the balloon into a giant lantern.

Other burners weren’t connected to a balloon, so the violent spears of flame were open for all the children to scream delightedly at.

The event was made especially spectacular on Saturday night by the bursts of lightning behind the glowing balloons.

The synchronized torches in the air contrasted the cold whites of the lightning, creating a scene that was almost apocalyptic.

Sadly, it was because of that distant lightning and thunder that the rest of the evening’s festivities, including the fireworks, were canceled.

The shortened event was still well worth the experience of witnessing one of the oldest forms of air travel still in existence.


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