Balloons Over Bend began Friday morning with the launch of five hot air balloons from High Desert Middle School.
Atmospheric conditions were so calm, some of the balloons landed within a few hundred feet of where they started.
First, the balloons are inflated with fans.
Then burners inject the hot air that prepares them for flight.
Liftoff is a gentle rise off the ground.
Initially, all the balloons drifted east over 27th Street and Knott Landfill.
As we gained altitude, we drifted southwest.
“What’s the trick for you as a pilot?”
“Well, there’s some smoke on the ground over here. You can see the bottom wind is going east. The top winds, we use a helium balloon before we take off and it will show you all the roads in the air. You just have to go find them and use them to get where you want to go,” said Steve Wilkinson, owner of Fantasy Balloon Flights.
“And where do you want to go today?”
“I don’t care. I just want to have a good time and it looks like a beautiful day for it,” Wilkinson said.
We climbed to about 850 feet and enjoyed birds eye views of the new Caldera High School, Pilot Butte and Bend’s skyline.
“This is pretty much like three dimensional sailing,” Wilkinson said. “You are tacking back and forth like a sailboat but, in a balloon, you are tacking up and down.”
During those up and down tacks, pilot Steve Wilkinson found air currents that took us back to the field where we launched, which is unusual. Most days, balloon flights land miles and miles away from where they start.
During the descent, he expertly guided the balloon between trees, close enough that I could have reached out and touched the branches.
“I had to make a right hand turn out of the trees. That was exciting,” he said.
The ground crew guided us to a soft landing, which elicited round of applause from a crowd that gathered to watch the balloons launch, but weren’t expecting to see them land.
Ballons over Bend continues Friday with races for kids and a Night Glow event at Central Oregon Community College.
There will another balloon launch Saturday morning at High Desert Middle School, followed by A Night Glow event at the Deschutes County Fairgrounds in Redmond Saturday night.
And a final sunrise balloon launch Sunday morning from High Desert Middle school.