FLYING HIGH: Pilots Compete In Balloon Classic

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It was a beautiful morning for a hot air balloon ride as dozens of pilots flew above Indianola. The National Balloon Classic runs through Saturday. Visitors know it's a beautiful sight from the ground. But, many of us don't realize what it takes for the balloons to take flight.

Diamondjake Ballooning Pilot Joel Worthington says, "Ever since I was a kid, I've always loved to fly." He started piloting hot air balloons ten years ago. He's witnessed special occasions, birthdays, and marriage proposals in his balloon. But this particular flight isn't just for fun. He says, "We have to watch for traffic and not run into each other."

He's one of nearly ninety pilots competing in Indianola's National Balloon Classic. The champion wins money and bragging rights. Race Director Bill Clemons says, "This is a big event. This isn't just a Midwest event. This is a national event. And, winning here is great prestige for a pilot to have that Indianola title on their resume."

The task is to throw a streamer and hit targets the size of semi-trailers while high in the sky. Pilots and their crews do compete once in the morning and once at night during the nine day event, weather permitting. Worthington says, “We get up early.”

Pilots and their crews are up and at the grounds by 6 a.m. They get a weather report and their task sheet. Then, it's off to find a suitable spot for lift off. It takes about twenty minutes for Diamondjake Ballooning's twelve person crew to get ready for take-off. Worthington says, "Here we go."

Unless the burners are going, it's really quiet and peaceful in the balloon. In the distance you can see the Des Moines skyline and miles and miles of Warren County fields. Crew member Tesha says, "When you get up in the air, it's so serene. It's quiet. It's just like a feather floating. It's just awesome."

Most of the flights last about an hour, while pilots try to hit the day’s targets and enjoy the sights. After landing, it takes the crew some time to get the balloon out of the field and the passengers out of the basket. It’s quite a bit of work. Barb VanWyngarden says, "It is, but the payment is balloon flights. And, it makes it all worth it."

You can see the balloons flying over Indianola at the National Balloon Classic through Saturday. Tickets are $3 for adults, or $10 for a carload. Kids twelve and under are free.

The National Balloon Classic brings $3 million into the local economy every year.

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