Previously on ballooning: 2014 13th Annual Letchworth Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, 2013 Balloon Festivals, ... Third Time was The Charm, 2013 Two Birds with One Stone at Letchworth.
It was a slow start to the 13th annual balloon festival again. The initial three launches were cancelled due to a variety of reasons like wind, the Archery Field being soaked, and a nearby storm clouds on Saturday night.
It's a Go!2014 Letchworth Balloon Festival
However, Sunday 6 AM brought some joy to the ballooning fans. There's always this tense moment of expectations when the pilot briefing ends and the pilots stroll back to their teams. They already know the verdict but a general spectator does not. I must say all of the pilots and crew we ran into and talked to are extremely warm-hearted people always ready to share the info and knowledge they have. On this morning, we did not even have to stop one of them and ask. A few teams sprang to action quickly, the balloons came out of their trailers, and got stretched on the Archery Field grass. In the first photo on the right, you see the CT Ballooning team's balloon ready to get some air.
Right off the bat we noticed there were not that many ballooning teams on the field though. That compared to both last year, and also the night before. Maybe the three cancelled starts discouraged some of them? No idea. We counted about 15 compared to last year's 25.
Balloons Standing Up2014 Letchworth Balloon Festival This was all around 6 AM on Sunday morning. As last year, we squeezed in a 2-4-1 and caught the sunrise over the Great Bend first before heading for the Archery Field. My timing was a little off though and I did not have as much time to mess with filters as I normally would have. We arrived just as the sun peaked over the gorge. But that will be a topic for another post, back to the balloons here.
Another interesting thing was that the teams were split about half and half between those moving quickly forward towards their launch and those leisurely delaying. That surprised me especially after seeing some in the past not taking off due to the morning calmness being interrupted by wind gradually picking up as the sun rose higher.
After a while, several balloons got enough air blown in that they started rising up and getting ready for the first blasts of the burners. That's what you can see in the second photo. That also shows what always surprises me - how close to one another they set up.
The Goldfish is Up!2014 Letchworth Balloon Festival It's also fun to try to remember the repeat balloons from the year before and spot the new ones. Not that I will claim that good of a memory but some of them are rather easy to remember, or not to. You can see one of the new ones for the 2014 festival on the right, floating over the road from Archery Field (on the left) over the alley towards the Genesee River gorge on the right. Yes, it's a Goldfish.
That is one of the amazing sights watching balloons in Letchworth. They take off from Archery Field, cross the double tree line, and quickly drop into the gorge to hover there and enjoy the view. Some drop all the way to the river for a splash and dash, others hover above the water. Standing at the launch site, it's a surprising moment seeing it for the first time. You see the balloon rise quickly, clear the trees, and disappear. What happened? Are they all right?
Not all can make this trick. I am not a balloon pilot so I will not speculate but quite a few of the balloons overshoot the gorge and never make it in. Whether it's due to a bad luck with winds or rising and dropping air or bad timing of the descend I do not know. What we did see this year though was very few balloons making it. Most flew over. The Goldfish was one that made it using a careful strategy. The team dragged the balloon to the first tree line and only then let go. As such, the fish never got much elevation and made it look easy dropping in once over the second tree line. It also stayed down at the river the longest, possibly 20 minutes or more, just very slowly drifting down stream as if it were a boat. Eventually, it came up when it reached the point where Genesee River sharply turns around the Great Bend.
Over the Gorge2014 Letchworth Balloon Festival Not all was lost though for those that did not make it into the immediate gorge. There still was a chance to get lower over the river behind the Great Bend cliff. I was too curious to let go and ran north a bit to see their fate and spotted a few drifting over the river further north. CT Ballooning was one of them.
As last year, even this year some balloons did not launch. There are some air flows over the Archery Field making some spots easier to launch from than others and as last year, one spot proved troublesome with the balloon never rising up enough to allow for the burners to come on. We spoke with a local crew last year and they talked about it as a known factor. Makes you wonder how much these local "secrets" are told or kept. It must be a bummer to finally be given a go on the fourth attempt only to have to pack. I find it strange they do not move the balloon and try from a different spot. I would struggle giving up. Then again, I am not a balloon pilot.
Scouting a Landing Spot2014 Letchworth Balloon Festival Last year, without planning, we had the idea to try to catch some of the balloons landing and it worked out for us. It was at least as much fun as watching the take offs, if not more. There's a dose of mystery in it. Where will the wind take them? Are they going to find a decent landing spot? Sinc we enjoyed our 2013 balloon chase experience we went for it again. Once on the other side of the gorge and up from the valley we saw many different balloons and headed in their general direction without a clear idea about which one we'd stick with. It's not an exact science since the balloons go straight and in a car one is stuck with the zigzag network of roads. Catching up to and following a balloon chase vehicle does make things easier since they are in touch with their balloon.
After switching back and forth among a few we decided to pursue CT Ballooning again as last year and as we headed in their direction we came upon their chase vehicle. The rest was easier, but still with a surprise. I say easier and not easy since one of the dirt roads we ended up on was very uneven and full of gaping pot holes.
CT Ballooning Landing #22014 Letchworth Balloon Festival As we were watching the landing of the blue CT Ballooning balloon another balloon approached by almost the same trajectory. It was the black top one in the panoramic photo above on the right. A nice bonus. And that is when a surprise came. After a smooth landing, the chase vehicle crew tried to pull the balloon more into the open away from the bushes but then stopped. And all of a sudden, the balloon was back up in the air! The chase goes on!! … And that is where the rough dirt road came up.
After another 15 minutes or so, it was time for another landing attempt. This time, it was the final one too as the balloon came to rest on a wide open area. I'd like to thank Jim, the CT Ballooning pilot, and their chase vehicle crew for being so friendly and open to share their knowledge every step of the way from launch through landing and packing.
At this point, I don't know what happened with the scheduled Sunday night and Monday morning launches but I will keep trying to find out. I hope they managed at least one more to make it more successful than in 2013 when only one launch worked out. We had fun yet again and I am pretty sure we will be back in 2015!
Have fun balloon chasing!
Nikon D600, Nikon 24-85mm Nikkor Lens, handheld, Think Tank Speed Demon Waist Pack, Petzl Zipka Plus 2 Headlamp (always in the bag just in case), Jackery Bar 5600mAh (usually on hand to keep the smart phone going), SanDisk Extreme 32GB SD Cards, Nikon Capture NX2.
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