They always excite everyone. People stop their cars alongside the road, run out of the house and onto the yard to look up to a magnificent, peacefully floating hot air balloon. On last Thursday evening, I was able to be the person in the basket, looking down on the people waving up at us as we gently floated by.
It was a practice flight and just-for-fun hot air balloon ride the night before the 3rd Annual Red Rock Lake Balloon Fest. My pilot was Jeremy King of the FlyinKOAT Balloon Team out of Indianola. He had been around hot air balloons before, and he played with the idea of buying one and thought, “Why not?” So eight years ago, after hours of pilot training, practice fly time, and the completion of the FAA test to obtain his license, he purchased his first hot air balloon to fly for both hobby and competition. As a participant in Red Rock Lake’s Balloon Fest, he was excited to take us out in his balloon named “Old School” for a practice flight before the weekend’s competition.
Several other balloons took off out of Knoxville and Pella that evening, and I was joined by Matt Kissinger, President of Lake Red Rock Association and Edward Jones Financial Advisor at Knoxville, and his wife, Debbie. We were all experiencing a hot air balloon ride for the first time, and were all a little nervous as we watched King and his crew unload a small basket with the colored balloon wrapped up inside.
I didn’t know what to expect, but I didn’t expect a basket that only came up to my waist and was just about 3’x4’ wide. King was cool and calm as he and the team rolled out the balloon, undid the straps holding the balloon together, and started putting in the pieces to the basket, or gondola in balloonist lingo. Four 10 gallon LP tanks were in each corner, ready to fuel our way across Knoxville. I felt a little better after he mentioned the mandatory inspections balloons undergo every year.