What is it about hot-air balloons?Published 12:07am Sunday, October 16, 2011
Thousands of people flocked to Natchez this weekend to stare at hot air.
For more than 25 years, the oldest form of human flight has been front and center in the Natchez area as the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race takes to the skies — at least when the weather is just right.
It’s fascinating how such a simple, even antiquated invention can infatuate so many people.
People literally come from all over to wake up early and chase down the colorful balloons soaring overhead. The lucky few get to catch a ride in one.
So why is it that the balloons are so intriguing to so many?
The evidence against the sport is overwhelming.
Traveling by hot-air balloon is not practical. Even the most skilled pilots cannot accurately steer the balloons.
You cannot go anywhere at your own speed, since you’re largely at the mercy of the wind.
Most balloons only carry enough fuel to fly for an hour or so at most, meaning the fun is over a short time after takeoff.
Finally, it’s not a sport for the weak at heart — or the loners either. In addition to dangers of flying with only up and down control, ballooning requires several people willing to work hard while a select few have fun flying.
Crewmembers make up a huge part of the sport, but they’re mostly working and chasing, which can be a different kind of fun, but certainly does not have the thrills of actual flight.
Yet despite all of those reasons why balloons flying overhead shouldn’t matter, the opposite is true. In fact, balloon race weekend is the biggest single weekend event our area has. Many restaurants, stores and other establishments contend it’s their single biggest weekend in terms of sales.
The real answer to why balloon race is important to Natchez has many possible reasons.
First, the balloons are pretty to watch. They’re a novelty to most of us.
They also seem to defy gravity. Despite knowing the physics behind the concept, the thought that cloth and hot air can send us into the sky is just fascinating, and cool.
Ballooning appears to be the ultimate in leisure sports — for balloonists and certainly for spectators.
You simply cannot get stressed out if you’re watching big, billowy balloons quietly sailing past.
So maybe what we all need is more hot-air balloons in our lives and less stress.
Much stress goes into producing the balloon race each year, and the balloon committee deserves a huge “thank you” for their efforts along with the money provided by sponsors.
In the preparations for the balloon race, much scuttlebutt was spread about worries among some people that groups unrelated to the balloon event were taking advantage of its existence by sort of “tagging on.” Effectively, they’re taking advantage of the race’s existence to either build their own events or make a buck.
In some ways, that was one of the purposes of the original balloon race in the first place — create an event to help the community.
Unfortunately, like many things in life, some people will try to join in and help such things, while others will attempt to benefit from it.
Doing so isn’t a crime, and those who do so should not be treated as such, but it’s understandable why some people are upset by the practice.
Rather than continuing to fuss and waste perfectly good hot air and cause stress worrying about it, perhaps after watching a few dozen balloons soar overhead this weekend, in a few weeks, all sides of the matter can sit down and find some common ground before next year’s race.
Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or firstname.lastname@example.org.