Crewing for pilots family tradition for Hobdy

Published 12:55 am Saturday, October 18, 2014

NATCHEZ — For Tate Hobdy, the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race is a family reunion.

Hobdy, 32, has worked as a pilot crewmember for the balloon race since he was five years old — surrounded by family.

“When I was younger, I didn’t have a choice, my parents dictated that,” Hobdy said. “But I really enjoyed it and growing up with it became a part of our year, kind of like Christmas.”

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For 27 years, Hobdy has built several scrapbooks of photos from previous races, building life-long memories.

At the age of eight, Hobdy and his fellow crewmembers lost a balloon in Anna’s Bottom, located north of Natchez.

Hobdy said a balloon has no directional control. In order to fly a balloon, the chase crew must drive around and retrieve it, once it lands.

“We were crewing and the wind died as the pilots got over Anna’s Bottom,” Hobdy said.

Hobdy and his crew spent hours searching for the balloon and its pilots, which they eventually found.

Teams of five to seven crewmembers are required to crew a balloon comfortably, Hobdy said.

“Part of the fun for us is the excitement of setting up the balloon, finding out where the wind is going to take it, launching the balloon and showing up where the balloon is going to land, if you can find it,” Hobdy said. “It’s not as easy as you think.”

Hobdy has worked with a series of pilots, including Robert and Sally Lupton, who pilot the Lady Jester.

“One of the great things about our pilots is that they are very safety conscious,” Hobdy said. “We don’t really participate in the competition, per say, we just want to give people a great experience.”

Hobdy said he also enjoys working with his father, Braxton Hobdy.

“We have a very close relationship,” Hobdy said. “I get the chance to work with my entire family, which is great.”

Hobdy said crewing is something different.

“It’s not something people do on a daily bases,” Hobdy said. “I get excited when other people get excited.”

Hobdy said it usually takes up to 10 minutes to set up a balloon, but it depends on the amount of people helping.

“It’s never set in stone,” Hobdy said. “It could take longer depending on the environment you are setting up in.”

But Hobdy has it all figured out.

“We all work well together,” Hobdy said. “Everyone has their role pretty much figured out.”

Hobdy said he loves the entire event, but it’s a lot of hard work.

“It’s not an easy thing to put on, but seeing it come to fruition makes it worth while,” Hobdy said.

Hobdy does not want the Miss-Lou to take this event for granted.

“We have had good years and bad years,” Hobdy said “But it’s a great event for Natchez. As a family, we do it every year.”