Photos by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
Two crew members of Hank Humiston’s hot air balloon known as “Flamebuoyant 2” hold onto the crown line rope during inflation on Saturday morning, Aug. 26 at the Hot Springs Municipal Airport.
By Charity Maness
HOT SPRINGS – On Saturday morning, August 26, and again on Sunday morning, Aug. 27, a total 21 hot air balloons took to the skies to the delight of onlookers and passengers alike, as part of the 8th annual Fall River Hot Air Balloon Festival, which also included several events in Centennial Park and a Night Glow around town at three different locations.
“It was another wildly successful Balloon festival,” stated Olivia Mears, Executive Director of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce. “We believe there was a record number in attendance at the airport. We are very grateful the weather cooperated on Saturday and Sunday and we had flights both days. As usual our visiting pilots had nothing but praise for Hot Springs. The Chamber is very grateful to everyone who helped makes this another great Balloonfest!”
The Night Glow at the State Veterans Home went off beautifully with three balloons, however due to concerns about the wind on the hill at Butler Park, only one balloon was fully inflated and lit up at that location.
Prior to this past weekend’s festivities, a couple of the pilots were interviewed and spoke about their excitement for once again participating.
“I live, eat and breathe hot air balloons,” said Balloonmeister and pilot Tammie Shrum, who was in charge of all the balloon-related activities of the three-day event.
This sentiment was apparent in most all balloon pilots.
Kenny Bradley of Ault, Colo., pilots the 135,000 cubic foot Calico Rose, named so because “it’s a pirate ship name.”
With 560 hours under his belt and flights abroad, Bradley learned that “the first ride is cheap, the second ride is expensive.”
“I had always wanted to fly,” he said. “So I began crewing to learn all I could and bought my first balloon in 2011 and became a pilot in 2013.”
In 2018, he flew in the Sagrantino Italian International Balloon Challenge Cup in Italy.
“Ten days in Italy flying Hot Air Balloons,” said Bradley, “what could be better? One day I landed next to a castle being restored.”
Bradley enjoyed the experience but admits that the way Europeans fly is much different.
“The rules are different, the fueling is different and the seasoned pilots fly in all weather,” he said.
“We can’t fly here in weather,” said Shrum. “We have parameters, their rules are not as specific as ours, they can even fly in a thunderstorm,” she exclaimed.
While Bradley truly enjoys flying, he said that the most fun of flying is meeting people, yet the most difficult is meeting people.
“I’m an introvert with extrovert tendencies,” he laughed.
Corey Gwin of Hot Springs pilots the 77,000 cubic foot balloon PlmLoco. With 130 hours to his name, he embraces flying by making it a family affair.
“He used to like snowmobiling,” explained Corey’s wife Dee, “but that wasn’t a real family thing. Ballooning had always been on my bucket list so I asked a friend how I could have a ride and he told me I had to crew first. Corey told me this wouldn’t last long because I hate mornings. But honestly this is now the only thing I will get up early to do. I was hooked.”
So Corey and Dee both learned to fly. But the love of flying didn’t stop there. Their daughter Sophia began at the age of 14 to learn to fly and their son Fletcher has a keen interest.
However, Corey admits that he is GPS-challenged and really needs Dee to crew. Yet Dee says the kids can navigate better than either of them.
Since they home school their children, they are able to participate in festivals all over America with Georgia currently being the furthest.
Corey’s favorite part of flying is the serenity and quiet of being in a balloon, with the most difficult being “deciding whether to fly or not due to weather. There are days the weather will pop up with all models showing peaceful and great but you get up there and it can change in a second.”
While ballooning may look simple, it comes with a lot of responsibility.
“As a pilot, we need to pay attention to temperature, wind direction, the five people in balloons around me, the hair on the back of my neck, all while carrying on a conversation with our passengers, because in a moment’s time it can all change,” said Shrum. “Balloons require your intuition to be in tune, you use every sense, including your sixth sense, every moment.”
Corey agreed wholeheartedly, “It’s important to never get complacent,” he said.
But skill, intuition and experience aside, all the pilots enjoy sharing their experience with others.
“It’s about sharing that level of peace, that level of giving that you can share with people,” said Shrum. “Whether it’s someone’s bucket list, their last wish, or an engagement, we get to share something that is unusual and spectacular with that person.”
“To give them their first flight,” said Corey, “to see their smiles, it’s just amazing.”
Bradley pushes the envelope with his love of sharing the thrill of ballooning by embracing those passengers with handicaps. “It is most rewarding to me flying with handicap people,” he said. While he admits the flight is for the passenger he, personally, is rewarded just by “watching their faces light up when they feel the peace and beauty of the flight”.
“Every flight with every passenger is special,” said Shrum, “if it doesn’t move me to tears, I didn’t do my job.”