Pilots get sunrise start on balloon race

Published 11:19 pm Friday, October 19, 2007

VIDALIA — With bursts of flame and bright colors, the 2007 Great Mississippi River Balloon Race lifted off Friday morning.

Pilots and their crews began cold-inflating their hot-air balloons by blowing the chilly morning air into the balloons with powerful fans around 7:15 a.m., and by 7:30 — after they had heated the air in the balloon envelope — the craft were lifting up and away from the launch site in Vidalia.

Floating at 1,000 feet above sea level — about 800 feet above the ground on the Vidalia side of the river — pilot Brian Hoyle, of Raleigh, N.C., gestured to the sunrise over the river.

Email newsletter signup

“When you get up here, it’s easy to understand why we do this,” he said.

Hoyle was flying a 90,000 cubic foot red Aerostar balloon, a craft that can carry a payload of a pilot and two passengers, he said.

“I always wanted to fly, but both of my parents were teachers, so money for flying lessons was kind of out of the question,” he said.

Though he took his first hot-air balloon ride in 1993, it was a ride he took with his then future father-in-law two years ago that set Hoyle on track to become a pilot himself.

“After that, I knew it was time and I knew how I was going to learn to fly,” he said.

And getting his certification took a commitment, Hoyle said.

“I went to Albuquerque, N.M., just after Memorial Day and stayed there through most of the month of June,” he said.

But the time it took was worth it, he said.

“That first solo flight is really something,” he said.

When it came time to drop his beanbag on a target in a field south of Natchez — the end goal of the race — Hoyle was just too far to the right of the target to drop his mark.

“I had to steer too far to the right to avoid the guide wires on a transmitter tower,” he said.

Dropping the balloon gently down in the middle of the cul-de-sac on Windsong Court, Hoyle’s crew team — his wife Mandy Hoyle, Brad Bradshaw and Dave Plamer, all of Raleigh, — pulled into the cul-de-sac in their chase truck, the vehicle they use to follow the balloon from the ground so they can pack it up once it has landed.

“We can crew a balloon with three people, but we like to have four because the equipment is heavy,” Mandy Hoyle said.

The Hoyles try to fly as much as they can, Mandy Hoyle said.

Brian Hoyle summed up his feelings about ballooning in one statement.

“I can’t think of a cooler way to fly,” he said.