The Kentucky Derby Great Balloon Festival was held this past weekend – April 25-27. For the first time in a number of years, all events at the balloon festival were completed.
The pilot master briefing was held at 2:30 on Thursday the 25th at the Crown Plaza Hotel. After the briefing, we headed down to the Ohio River for the new Crew Challenge and Glimmer. The Jasper Engines & Transmissions balloon participated in the Crew Challenge with the WLKY weatherman helping. The pilot had to inflate the balloon, but not stand it up, and a four person crew squeezed it out and packed it back up. This was a timed event. Our WLKY weatherman was doing the weather live while trying to help pack up the balloon. It was a fun event.
The Glimmer was the main event of the evening. It was still very windy on the waterfront but was forecasted to taper off. The balloons were inflated. We were batted around by the wind for over an hour. The glimmer by the waterfront, between the two bridges, is a very picturesque location. It was a full moon and the traffic on I-65 was backed up due to the balloons.
The pilots’ briefing for the Friday Morning Rush Hour Race was held at 5:00 am. The weather was looking good, and we were told to head out to Bowman Field for a supplemental briefing. We arrived at the field around 6:15, and it was time to start setting up and getting ready to fly if we were given the go at the next briefing. At 6:45, we were told it was a go. The flight was on! The US Bank Balloon was the hare balloon and inflated first. The hound balloons followed. We were off and going across the Ohio River and headed to Indiana. The hare balloon sat down in a field about 8 miles from the launch site. Only 5 of the 27 balloons in the event scored on the target. We landed in New Albany Indiana. World Champion Nick Donner won this event.
Friday evening was the big event of the day. The glow is held at the Kentucky Fair grounds & Exposition center. The winds were very light. The rain to the west was forecast to stay away. The rain did stay away, but the fans came out in droves! Sixty-three thousand of them to be exact. This was by far the biggest crowd this event has ever seen. The event was broadcast live by WLKY. The station had helicopters in the air and TV crews on the ground. We passed out a year’s worth of balloon cards in one evening!
Saturday morning was the big race. At the 5:00 AM pilot briefing, we were told the rain had remained out to the west and the race was on. We headed back out to Bowman Field. There was one more check of the winds and rain and we were cleared to fly. The winds aloft were still from the southeast. We were headed back across the Ohio River to Indiana again. Jerry Copas flew the French Lick Resort balloon and won the race.
Jasper Engines & Transmission was awarded the 10-Year Participant’s Plaque. I was also awarded my 10 -year plaque as pilot. I am very grateful to Jasper Engines & Transmissions for having me as your pilot. It is truly an honor.
Warren D Smith