GOING UP: Balloon tether ride part of aviation lesson at Natchez Middle School

Published 1:00 pm Sunday, November 5, 2023

NATCHEZ — A Natchez Middle School class lesson elevated students to the next level, literally.

During a tethered hot air balloon ride, Elizabeth Greer’s students in Project Lead the Way applied experience to concepts they are studying in the air and space unit of their class with help from a real pilot, Kurt Vitense.

St. Louis Missouri hot air balloon pilot Kurt Vitense takes Natchez Middle School students on hot air balloon tether rides. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

The class is an elective that students can take, or they can take music or physical education instead, Greer said.

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A few decided to take Greer’s class because they heard that in previous years, students got to fly in a hot air balloon.

Vitense, a Missouri airplane and hot air balloon pilot, took students on tether rides on the school grounds before the 2023 Natchez Balloon Festival weekend and then led a Q&A lesson with Greer’s students.

Kurt Vitense teaches Natchez Middle School Students about his experience as both a balloonist and a commercial airplane pilot during a Q&A lesson. (Sabrina Robertson | The Natchez Democrat)

Students asked about his career both as an airplane pilot and a hot air balloonist.

Vitense answered an array of questions varying from, “When did you become a pilot?” to “Do you like to eat chicken?”

“Nearly 30 years,” and “Yes, but sometimes it’s greasy,” Vitense said.

Vitense said he treated the lesson like a career day and was glad to take part in it.

“What I do doesn’t feel like work because I’m doing what I love to do,” he told students. “Whatever your passion is, whether it’s flying or engineering or science, find a career that focuses on it and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Rodney Washington said the tether ride “wasn’t scary at all” and pretty much what he expected.

“I learned that the wind can throw the balloon off balance,” he said.

On the other hand, Suniya Holloway said she was scared when she went up in the balloon.

“It was fun, but it was also scary,” she said. “I learned how it works. … The flame in the hot air balloon makes it go up because of the density.”

Dejenae Fleming said she wasn’t expecting Vitense to shake the basket by jumping up and down. Other than that part, it was fun.

“It felt like floating,” she said.