Pilot enjoys sights of Natchez from air

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 21, 2007

NATCHEZ — The first time Deanna Albaugh went to a balloon festival, in Canton, she intended simply to watch.

Instead, she got recruited to help the chase crew.

She was hooked.

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The Baton Rouge resident worked on chase crews for years.

“Everyone said, ‘You should be a pilot, you should be a pilot,’” Albaugh said. “Finally, they went and bought me a logbook and said, ‘You need to be a pilot.’”

Albaugh earned her pilot’s license and started flying her balloon, Shadeaux Dancer, at festivals around Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Until this year, she had avoided The Great Mississippi River Balloon race because of the balloon’s age.

“(The material) gets worn and thin,” she said. “Just like a T-shirt, you can tell its age.”

That was a problem because older, thinner balloon fabric doesn’t hold heat in as well. Since water, like the Mississippi River, doesn’t retain heat as well as land, and thus, doesn’t give as much added lift, flying an old balloon over the river was a risky prospect, she said.

But when she and her crew chief, Marcey Leger, bought the new balloon, they made plans to fly in Natchez.

They both had crewed in Natchez, but flying in this weekend’s race was a new experience.

“It’s the best place (to fly),” Albaugh said. “The whole town comes out and invites you to spend the weekend. And the festival site keeps people around.”

And while some pilots are eager to win first prize, Albaugh is happy with a peaceful flight.

“The fun of it is having a safe flight and performing for the crowds,” she said.

“And the world looks very differently when you’re flying than from on the ground.”