14th Annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, Letchworth State Park 2015

June 01, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Previously on ballooning: 2014 13th Annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival, Letchworth State Park 2014, 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.

Bright and Happy Colors of Hot Air Balloons, Letchworth State ParkBright and Happy ColorsLetchworth State Park This year, my special thanks go to Jim Regan of CT Ballooning and his crew and the crew of Aloft Horizons of Central Ohio Balloon Club. They both made our days even more special and fun by allowing us to be part of the balloon chase. Thank you!

As every year, 6 launches were scheduled for the 2015 Memorial Day weekend, starting with 6 p.m. on Friday and ending with 6 a.m. on Monday. The first launch on Friday was canceled due to high winds and gusts. Speaking with several balloon crews, that seems to be part of the tradition too. They could not remember flying on Friday night.

The forecast for Saturday morning looked excellent and we were ready! As usual, the alarm was set for 4 AM to catch not only the launch but the sunrise too, at about quarter to six. And so we did.

Once the sun cleared the horizon and started climbing quick it was time to head back down to the Archery Field. The morning meeting was clearly a success as many crews had already unwrapped their balloons and stretched them on the field. Soon, the fans were going and blowing air into the balloons bringing the flat pieces of fabric to life. And as they started taking on their shape the sun made it high enough to flood the meadow with beautiful warm morning light. It's a wonderful match, the colorful balloons and warm sunlight. It was amazing how quickly things went from quiet to bustling. Quickly, many balloons started rising up building up the excitement!

Hot Air Balloons Ready to Fly, Letchworth State ParkReady to FlyLetchworth State Park This morning, the preparation and the launches seemed to go especially fast. Soon, they started taking off one after another with not much time in between. Trying to run around and photograph them was a futile effort. But it was so tempting! They all have colorful patterns yet they're each s different. Seeing them rise in the sunlight against the clear blue sky was spectacular and I can only imagine the great feeling all of the crews much have had as they soared upwards!

In Letchworth, the balloon rally has a special twist. As soon as the balloons take off they have a descend to worry about. No, not a landing, but a quick drop into the Genesee River gorge. As soon as the wind takes them over the tree line they need to quickly drop down, otherwise, the wind's going to take them straight over the gorge robbing them of the most special experience. Some years, this maneuver is easier than others and there are always some that do and don't make it. This Saturday morning the winds were very calm and most, if not all, made it. Some even landed on the tiny strip of a beach next to the river down in the gorge, others hovered just over the water, and the more adventurous ones allowed water into their baskets to create a waterfall once going back up.

Five Hot Air Balloons in the Genesee River Gorge, Big Bend, Letchworth State ParkFive in the GorgeLetchworth State Park Thanks to the doldrums, they all hung together without being quickly scattered. I had never seen so many inside and above the gorge before. Again, I chose to photograph most of this action with a wide angle to moderate telephoto lens to make sure I included enough of the surroundings to be able to identify the location. Since there were so many I had the luxury of waiting for interesting formations to form and played with straight views or shooting through trees, and including more or fewer.

Once they enjoyed the scenery enough and enough time passed it was time to continue their flight and find a place to land before they'd start running low on fuel. As they started leaving the gorge and disappearing over the Big Bend we wrapped up the launch part too, got in the car and headed for the second part of the tradition. A balloon chase!

We headed out of the park and drove around the south entrance, crossed the bridge over Genesee River and headed towards Nunda, NY. Once out of the valley the view usually opens enough that you can spot the balloons and pick one to go after. You might also get lucky and run into one of the balloon chase vehicles. If you find the one that belongs to your favorite balloon, so much better.

CT Ballooning's Reflections, Over a PondCT Ballooning's ReflectionsOver a Pond For the past three years we've chased after CT Ballooning and their blue Reflections balloon. And we were lucky enough to spot the balloon, along with many others. It seemed like the pattern from the launch site continued and all balloons were in the same general area providing a beautiful view over the open farm land, and as in the photo on the right, over some ponds.

The wind patterns were interesting. When the balloons dropped close to the ground, winds were taking them south. As they raised higher, they were heading north. Quite a few of them took advantage of this and zigzagged over the road several times while on the lookout for a nice landing spot. There are quite a few rules about where to and not to land and the pilots have special maps with the areas marked. You might think that farm fields would be great and safe areas to land but they can't. As such, they're usually looking for grassy patches like someone's front or back yard. Landing close to a road is also preferred so that the basket and the packed balloon does not have to be carried too far.

Reflections Landed, CT Ballooning Touch DownReflections LandedCT Ballooning Touch Down Jim and his crew headed just north of Nunda, NY and found an area with plenty of grass to land in. We watched them land and helped a little bit with the clean up operation. The mood was excellent after just about a perfect flight. Then, it was all over and it was not even 9 AM. That's the crazy thing about chasing sunrises and sunrise balloon flights. When it's all over the day has barely started. It's that point that you start feeling the 4 AM alarm.

Instead of heading home and catching up on sleep, we managed to find other activities along the way making it home around 3 PM. And that is when the great idea came. How about heading back and see the balloons launch at sunset? Weather forecast was on the edge with winds still high around 6 PM but expected to die down. Even the pilots were not sure whether it would work out or not. In the end, we left late hoping a delayed launch would happen.

Aloft Horizons Landed, Balloon Landing on a RoadAloft Horizons LandedLanding on a Road And it did! It was the latest launch we had ever seen there, being around 7:30 PM. And the whole magic repeated. This time, the sun was in our backs illuminating the balloons from the west. CT Ballooning decided not to fly this evening, being so late and having had such an great flight in the morning. That left us with a new decision to make who to go after. The selection fell on Aloft Horizons, a member of the Central Ohio Balloon Club. And they showed another option of landing so that the balloon and basket would not be far from the road.

That proved to be the last flight of this event for us to see. We skipped Sunday altogether to catch up on sleep (the balloons only flew in the evening), and Monday morning was canceled and we went for an alternate program of hiking.

Thanks go to all of the organizers and crews for another wonderful ballooning event over Letchworth. We already look forward to the 15th Annual Red, White & Blue Balloon Festival in Letchworth State Park in 2016!

Have fun balloon chasing!

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ReferencesBalloon Federation of America's Event Calendar (make sure to look at the right year) - Letchworth State Park Event Calendar - HotAirBalloon.Com - Sean Quigley, the organizer, on Facebook - CT Ballooning - CT Ballooning on Facebook - Central Ohio Balloon Club - Aloft Horizons of Central Ohio Balloon Club


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