The 26th annual Natchez hot air balloon festival got underway high above ground early Friday morning. The festival attracts nearly 25,000 people to the small town for the weekend. One of WLBT's reporters had the chance to take a trip in one of the balloons.
The sound of hot air filled an open field in Natchez around 7:00 AM Friday morning. Dozens of folks including WLBT's Jewell Hillery flew high into the sky. But first Pilot Gary Heavin and a crew had to unpack the 80 foot long balloon. "You get to the race with the balloon in the back of the pick-up truck, a lot of people wonder how it fits, it was all packed in a bag," says Heavin.
Before going up into the air, the balloon itself is rolled out and then cool air is put into the balloon. That cool air is heated and that's how the balloon is lifted off the ground. Slowly, but surely the open field started to rise with balloons in a variety of colors and shapes.
Veteran pilot Joe Heartsill says, "the winds right now are really calm and nice and that's really nice gentle flying for first time passengers."
After all of the air filled the balloon, it was time to hop in. The balloons ascended hundreds of feet above the ground. During the flight about 25 balloons crossed over the Mississippi River and into Louisiana. Each balloon traveled about ten miles per hour.
Heavin says, "as you get closer to the ground winds tend to turn you to the left and if you want to go to the right you climb a little bit." After about forty minutes in the air the balloons landed smoothly back on the ground in a Vidalia, Louisiana field.
There's no need to worry if you missed checking out the hot air balloons Friday. About sixty balloons will fly above Natchez throughout the rest of the weekend.
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