Archived Story

I can hear them coming already

Published 12:11am Sunday, October 14, 2012

If you close your eyes, you can almost hear the unique sound of Natchez’s biggest weekend.

The countdown is nearly over; the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is just about here.

The sound to which I’m referring isn’t one of the great bands balloon race organizers have hired to come to Natchez. Instead the sounds come from the more than 60 hot-air balloon burners that will be soaring into the skies — with a little help from God in providing good weather.

If you don’t know the sounds to which I’m referring, you’ve never been near a hot-air balloon, because it’s a unique sound.

The fun of the weekend kicks off Friday morning — again if the weather allows — with a media flight. This flight sort of wets everyone’s appetite for hot-air balloons. It’s always fun to be driving along on Friday morning of balloon race weekend and suddenly be surprised by a colorful orb on the horizon.

If you’ve never been to the balloon race, I urge you to give it a try. The balloon race has a little bit of something for everyone.

If you’re a musical aficionado, you’ll find tons of great entertainment acts covering all sorts of genres of music, from country to blues to rock and pretty much everything in between.

Plenty of food and drinks are available at the festival grounds as well as a carnival for the children.

But of course the balloons are the main attraction.

Each year, it seems, something unusual happens with the balloons themselves. Sometimes, when the weather is unfavorable, balloons barely get unpacked.

The unpredictability of balloon racing can be infuriating at times, but it’s also part of the attraction, too. In a world that uses technology to predict practically everything, flying balloons is, well, always up in the air.

During a segment of last year’s race, balloon watchers saw some unique sights behind the Natchez Mall.

Unusual winds, pilots referred to them as box winds, allowed balloonists to fly almost in circles by raising and lowering altitudes to catch winds going in opposite directions.

For what seemed like more than hour — unfortunately I didn’t time it — balloonists appeared from behind the trees that line the back of the mall, dropped down near the target and then went back into the air and sort of circled around to try for a better position on the target.

For spectators, watching pilots fly the box was amazing. Balloons came, went and then came right back. Some pilots did this circular route more than once.

Balloons normally cannot be steered directly, mostly just going where the wind blows. But the work the pilots were doing last year showed their amazing skill in finding changing winds aloft and using them to their advantage.

It’s a sight not soon forgotten, but it was only one of at least two memorable views from last year’s race. The first came on the Friday morning media flight when balloons sailed over Concordia Parish as a thick blanket of fog made the scene look almost surreal.

I can’t wait to see what this year’s race has in store, but I know it will be memorable. They always are.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or